The hills are alive with the sound of caterpillars eating plants. We, mere humans, are oblivious to the sound these little critters make as they chomp away at their unsuspecting prey. However, a new study has revealed that plants can actually hear themselves being eaten.
Researchers from the University of Missouri have collected evidence that suggests plants react to the sound of a caterpillar attack by initiating a defensive response. The study found that plants would emit mustard oils, a chemical that's repulsive to many caterpillars, as a means of defending themselves.
Heidi Appel, a senior researcher on the experiment, said “Previous research has investigated how plants respond to acoustic energy, including music. However, our work is the first example of how plants respond to an ecologically relevant vibration.” The plants were able to distinguish the sound of a caterpillar attack from other background noises such as wind and non-threatening insects.
In light of this news, Appel and her colleagues have set their sights on pinpointing the mechanism that allows plants to hear. While plants may not have ‘ears’ per-se, they’ve got a hunch that their hearing capabilities may be linked to proteins known as mechanoreceptors.
This is big news for vegetarians and vegans around the globe. If plants have feelings too, then what’s left to eat?
Photo sourced here.