Smoker’s breath saves caterpillars’ lives

Smoker’s breath saves caterpillars’ lives

Tobacco-nibbling larvae exhale nicotine in face of predatory spiders

By Susan Milius, 13:36 PM January 2, 2014

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Eating wild tobacco plants produces such noxious breath in hornworm caterpillars that predators reel backward and flee upon encountering it.

“I think it’s actually the first example of using bad breath as a defense, although I’m sure that everybody has had a personal encounter of something similar,” says Ian Baldwin of the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena, Germany.

As a plant defense, nicotine works by poisoning a variety of creatures. But the plump, striped tobac...

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