Um, Plants Listen To You Eating Them, So That's It For Our Caesar Salad
Picture this the next time you're eating a crispy Caesar salad: The romaine lettuce can hear you bite into its flesh and get eaten to death. Okay, not really, but close. Researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia (MU) discovered that, apparently, plants can recognize the sounds that caterpillars make when eating them, and they respond by upping their defenses against the predators. Really makes you look at plants in a totally different way, doesn't it?
Scientists at MU unleashed caterpillars on Arabidopsis, a small leafy plant related to cabbage and mustard, and let them go to town. They used a laser to measure the ways the plant moved in response to the caterpillars' munching while recording audio of the whole thing. Then they removed the caterpillars and played the recordings back to one of the plants, while leaving another plant in silence.
Next the scientists placed the caterpillars back on the plants. They noticed that, for the plants that were played the recordings of themselves being eaten alive, they produced more mustard oil, a defense mechanism that keeps predators away.
In a report of the study, Heidi Apel, senior research scientist in the Division of Plant Sciences at MU's College of Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources, stated:
Our work is the first example of how plants respond to an ecologically relevant vibration. We found that feeding vibrations signal changes in the plant cells' metabolism, creating more defensive chemicals that can repel attacks from caterpillars.
While it's safe to assume that only live plants can identify and respond to sounds, I nevertheless will never eat vegetables the same way ever again. In fact, here are some of the things we'll be imagining our salads and stir-fry are thinking as they hear themselves getting eaten.
"If you're going to eat me, at least eat me whole. Don't degrade me by cutting me into little pieces and calling them my babies."
"Oh, hey, why are you picking me up? What's that crunching sound? ... Oh, my God, it's me!!!"
"I used to be beautiful and majestic, but these savages chopped all my limbs off and now I'm getting gnawed on by a hamster. Where is the humanity?!"
"What is this oily stuff? Oh, my God — where's my torso??"
"Well, there goes my tail. Is that my midsection I hear? I hope you're enjoying me, you —"