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Can you hear a caterpillar munching on leaves? Well, plants can!


Image source: Wikimedia
How often have we seen a caterpillar silently eat away an entire leaf of a plant to feed its hungry stomach. What if we told you that every time you thought the plant was helpless against the over-eating caterpillar, you were wrong? A recently published study in the journal Oecologia tells us that plants can actually hear the tiny vibrations that the caterpillar emits whilst feeding and prepare themselves for a similar event if it occurs in the future. Sounds interesting? Read on!!! 

We have all heard of tales where listening to soothing music (acoustic energy or sound) has helped plants grow. But researchers, Heidi Appel and Reginald Cocroft at the University of Missouri, set out to investigate how plants responded to sounds that were relevant to their survival. To test this, the researchers allowed caterpillars to feed on Arabidopsis plant, while they recorded the vibrations of the leaf during the process of feeding with the help of a laser. 


Video source: MU News Bureau

The recordings were then played to set of plants (lets call them Set A) while another set of plants (Set B) were played something like a blank cassette. Later on, caterpillars were allowed to feed on both these plants and interestingly, Set A plants recognized the vibrations that were reaching them now and started producing more mustard oils, a compound that deters the caterpillars from further feeding and naturally caterpillars crawled away. What the researchers found even more interesting was that the plants were able to differentiate the sound of feeding caterpillars from that of say another winged insect or leaf fluttering due to wind. 

While further research is needed to understand how exactly plants perceive these vibrations and respond to them, the initial findings offer a glint of hope in the years to come, we will move away from our dependence on insecticides! 

If you enjoyed reading this article, you might also like our article about how maize plant attacks its herbivore pest.   




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  1. Arabidopsis chamber used to store plants to provide them favorable atmospheric conditions which they need in their growth.

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