Tomato Plants Turn Caterpillars Into Cannibals
There are billions of different plants in the world, and not many of them are capable of killing animals endowed with the benefit of locomotion. However, some plants possess effective self-defense capabilities, and if you enjoy eating tomatoes, then you will appreciate the tomato plants unique method of self-defense. Recent studies show that tomato plants emit chemicals that can turn tomato-hungry caterpillars into cannibals.
Caterpillars are naturally attracted to tomato plants, and any tomato farmer can tell you that caterpillars love to feast on tomatoes. Of course, caterpillars only feast on tomatoes when they are hungry, and tomato plants use the caterpillars’ unfulfilled appetite to its advantage. According to researchers, tomato plants release a chemical that makes caterpillars lose their taste for tomatoes. As a result, the caterpillars cannot find food, which causes them to eventually resort to cannibalism.
Once a caterpillar begins to feast on a tomato plant, the tomatoes release a chemical called methyl jasmonate. This chemical then travels through the air and likely warns other tomatoes within a crop that ravenous caterpillars are in the area. Other tomatoes within a crop recieve this message and, in turn, release methyl jasmonate as well. Once caterpillars catch a whiff of this chemical, they become uninterested in consuming tomatoes. However, the caterpillars remain starving, so they have no choice but to eat other caterpillars.
Scientists tested this hypothesis by spraying various tomatoes within a crop with methyl jasmonate. After the tomatoes were sufficiently sprayed with this chemical, researchers let numerous caterpillars loose within the tomato crop. Sure enough, after a week had passed by, nearly all of the caterpillars had been killed.
Despite the success of the experiment, the lead researcher does not want the public to assume that tomatoes release a chemical that turns living things into zombies. The reason for the cannibalistic behavior is most likely due to an alteration in the tomatoes nutrient content. So you can go on eating tomatoes without worrying about eating your co-worker.
Have you ever heard of any other plant that is somehow able to defend itself against certain types of insects? If so, then which type of insects and plants were they?