A plant enemy’s enemy

Plants use chemicals to recruit help in fighting off pests

By Jill Richardson, 16:52 PM April 3, 2013


When eaten by caterpillars, some plants can emit chemicals that signal the help of special wasps. Once called, a wasp lays its egg inside a caterpillar. Credit: Ted Turlings



Plants have to stand their ground when pests attack. There’s simply no running away. Some plants play defense, using prickly thorns, thick bark or even bitter tastes to ward off insects and other attackers. But for many plants, the best defense is a good offense. These plants — including some varieties of corn and cotton — call for help. And predatory critters frequently respond, arriving to prey on the plants’ attackers.


Of course, plants don’t literally scream out to those helpers. Inste...

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