Plants Can ‘Hear Themselves Being Eaten’

Bad news for vegetarians and salad connoisseurs today; apparently plants can ‘hear’ themselves being eaten.

A new study, seemingly taken right from the screenplay of Sausage Party, has found that plants can identify sounds in their environment and react accordingly with defense mechanisms.

Researchers at the University of Missouri discovered that plants, upon hearing the crunch of a caterpillar devouring their leaves, release mustard oils, which are unappealing to caterpillars and ward them off.

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Heidi Appel of the Bond Life Sciences Center at MU:

Appel, a senior research scientist in the Division of Plant Sciences in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources collaborated with Rex Cocroft, professor in the Division of Biological Sciences at MU.

Their study saw Arabidopsis, a small flowering plant related to cabbage and mustard, subjected to the chewing of a caterpillar. Cocroft used tiny lasers to measure the plant’s movement response.

The researchers proceeded to play recordings of caterpillar feeding vibrations to one set of plants, and only silence to another set of plants.

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When caterpillars later fed on both sets of plants, those previously exposed to feeding vibrations produced more mustard oils, a defensive chemical to ward off caterpillars, than the other test group of plants.

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The study, funded in part by the National Science Foundation was published in Oecologia, and the results could be applied to agricultural sectors.

The initial study shows that plants – while they do not have consciousness – may have the potential to illicit their own defence mechanisms from certain pests and crop killers, when certain vibrations are omitted.

Researchers are yet to state whether these vibrations will be effective against vegetarians, at this early stage.