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    Research Finds Cunning Plants Combat Caterpillars with Trapped Insect Bait

    © Photo : Twitter/@NewsfromScience/ERIC LOPRESTI
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    A new study has compiled a list of 110 kinds of sticky plant which lure in insects, then use the corpses as bait to attract bigger predators that provide protection to the plant; the authors liken their behavior to the sirens of classical mythology.

    Sticky plants, like carnivorous plants such as the Venus fly trap, menace bugs, according to a study published in the journal Ecology which monitored plants attracting and killing passing bugs in a scheme to foil caterpillars and other pests.

    The study, named 'The siren song of a sticky plant: columbines provision mutualist arthropods by attracting and killing passerby insects,' found over 110 plant varieties that trap bugs on their sticky surfaces. Some of them are carnivorous and eat the bugs, but most exhibit the behavior, which the scientists concluded was a defense mechanism to protect the plant.

    After attracting passerby insects and spiders by emitting "a siren song leading them to their demise," the authors explain that the corpses of the dead arthropods, once stuck to the plant, then attract predators which reduce damage to the plant from herbivores such as caterpillars.

    Eric LoPresti, one of the authors of the study, explains how he came upon the idea for the study

    "I came upon a columbine – Aquilegia eximia – which I instantly knew held some potential for cool experiments. The first thing I noticed was that it was extremely sticky and covered in dead insects and the second was that it had a bunch of predators on it."

    His finding led him to think of another scientific paper he had read, which proved a similar hypothesis for tarweed, and decided to test the idea in another system. 

    Aquilegia eximia, a species of columbine known by the common names serpentine columbine or Van Houtte's columbine, and native to California.
    © Photo : Twitter/@PasseurSciences
    Aquilegia eximia, a species of columbine known by the common names serpentine columbine or Van Houtte's columbine, and native to California.
    LoPresti tested his hypothesis with 50 sticky columbine plants, and found that after he removed the dead flies from half of them, the plants were home to less predators, and consequently the target for more plant-eating parasites.

    LoPresti and his coauthors referred to the sticky plants as a "tourist trap" for passerby insects, and to describe the phenomenon settled on the metaphor of the sirens, creatures of Greek mythology which lured sailors to their death with beautiful singing.

    "These poor insects – innocent sailors of the California air – are somehow drawn to their deaths on the columbines," sayd LoPresti. 

    "Of course, the columbines put the insects to good use in their defense, leaving open the question – which I am sure classical mythologists lose much sleep over – what did the sirens do with their collection of dead sailors?"


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