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Aphids, abandon ship

Mammal breath drives insects to jump off plants

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2:01pm, August 10, 2010

Any mammal breath, be it goats’ or gazelles’ or grad students’, is bad breath to an aphid.

Exhalations send masses of pea aphids overboard, plummeting off the plant where they have been feeding, says Moshe Inbar of the University of Haifa in Israel. It’s combined warmth and humidity that gives breath its aphid-scaring power, Inbar and his colleagues report in the Aug. 10 Current Biology.

Abandoning food supplies and plunging to the ground counts as a desperate move for a tiny, wingless insect, Inbar says. But ground-level risks could be better than getting inadvertently chewed up as part of a grazer’s salad.

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