The bad-breath defense

Caterpillars that munch tobacco fend off predatory spiders by exhaling nicotine

By Stephen Ornes, 18:45 PM January 15, 2014

Bad breath can save a life. For caterpillars, anyway.

Tobacco hornworm caterpillars are plump, striped insects that feast on a type of wild tobacco plant. That meal provides more than nutrients. It also makes the insects’ breath so stinky that some predators flee.

“I think it’s actually the first example of using bad breath as a defense,” Ian Baldwin told Science News. But, he added, “I’m sure that everybody has had a personal encounter of something similar.”

Baldwin is a chemical ecologist. Tha...

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