Plants Are More Aware Than We Thought - One Species Can Hear Itself Being Eaten

Thursday, 10 July 2014 - 12:05PM
Thursday, 10 July 2014 - 12:05PM
Plants Are More Aware Than We Thought - One Species Can Hear Itself Being Eaten
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According to a new study, a certain type of plant, called the Arabidopsis thaliana (seen above), can hear caterpillars munching on its own leaves.


Studies have shown that plants react to wind, touch, and, in some cases, sound, but the latter's effects have been relatively undocumented. Missouri scientists H. M. Appel and R. B. Cocroft published their research which showed that this flowering plant activates chemical defenses in response to the acoustic vibrations caused by insect herbivores eating its leaves. Furthermore, they showed that the plant could differentiate between the vibrations from stimuli such as wind and the vibrations that signaled some kind of danger. Most disturbingly, they found that the plants reacted differently depending on decibel level, "suggesting a parallel between plant perception and animal perception" of sound.


[Credit: University of Missouri Life Sciences Center]


In order to come to these conclusions, they used laser technology to record the vibrations of caterpillars chewing on these plants. "It's a delicate process to vibrate leaves the way a caterpillar does while feeding, because the leaf surface is only vibrated up and down by about 1/10,000 of an inch," Cocroft explained. They then used this recording to "prime" the experimental group of plants with feeding sounds before exposing them to herbivores. The group that "listened" to the feeding sounds before exposure to the insects released a greater amount of unappealing chemicals than the control group. 


Appel said, "This research... opens the window of plant behavior a little wider, showing that plants have many of the same responses to outside influences that animals do, even though the responses look different."


Consider this our revenge for Day of the Triffids and Jumanji:


[Credit: TriStar Pictures]

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