Salad is the perfect option when you’re looking for a delicious and diet-friendly meal. Not only is it nutritious, but it allows you to eat free of guilt, knowing that no defenseless creatures had to suffer during the dish’s preparation. Or so you thought…
A recent study at the University of Missouri has shown that eating vegetables might not be quite as “harmless” as you’ve been lead to believe. It sounds ridiculous, but there’s more to plants than you may think—and it just might freak you out!
Whether or not you’re a vegetarian, you can probably agree that leafy greens are among the most nutritious meal options out there. Not only are they good for you, but they don’t usually come with the moral hangups that some meat choices do.
After all, they’re just plants! Sure, vegetables are still living organisms, but it’s not like they have any kind of consciousness like animals do. They don’t have feelings, and they certainly can’t feel pain… right?
Well, agricultural researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia have made a discovery that may change all of that. In fact, their findings might make you think twice the next time you want to chow down on a salad…
The specific vegetable in question? Arabidopsis thaliana, also known as mouse-ear cress or thale cress. You might not recognize it or find it remarkable at first glance, but there’s actually more to it than meets the eye.
In their groundbreaking study, the scientists discovered that Arabidopsis thaliana, and possibly other plants too, are actually able to detect specific noises! That’s right: they can hear. How could that even be possible?
Apparently, the plants respond to acoustic energies. “We found that ‘feeding vibrations’ signal changes in the plant cells’ metabolism,” explained Heidi Appel, a senior researcher at the University of Missouri’s College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources.
Because of this, Arabidopsis thaliana is actually able to detect when it’s being eaten alive. How spooky is that? To determine all of this, the researchers used some pretty clever tricks…
For this unique experiment, the researchers placed several caterpillars directly on top of several plants. They then recorded the sounds of the insects’ feeding vibrations as they munched away at the leaves.
Later, the researchers played the recordings for a separate group of Arabidopsis thaliana plants. A third group of the plant—the control group—was then observed in absolute silence. This made for quite the comparison…
After meticulously recording their observations for all three sets of Arabidopsis thaliana plants, the researchers were stunned by what they’d seen. It pretty much confirmed all of their wildest theories…
David Skalec / Wikimedia Commons
The sets of plants that were exposed to the sounds of the caterpillar larvae’s chewing seemed to be “primed” to defend themselves when caterpillars were introduced to them later on in the study. Meanwhile, the the plants left in silence were not.
alberto salguero / Wikimedia Commons
The threatened plants also started producing a large amount of a type of mustard oil. It seemed like merely the sound of impending doom was enough for the plants to react. But why mustard oil?
Dean Morley / Flickr
Odd as it may sound, the mustard oil produced by the plants was actually a sort of natural defense mechanism that the plants deployed to fend off predators. It was pretty effective, too.
Biswarup Ganguly / Wikimedia Commons
While mustard oil might sound like a random chemical, it’s actually not random at all. The Arabidopsis thaliana plant produces it specifically because it’s toxic to those pesky caterpillars.
This response may not sound particularly vicious, but for organisms that have such limited means of fighting back—these are just plants, after all—it works about as well as it can.
The results of this experiment may suggest something even more nerve-wracking: that some other species of plants, like the very lettuce we like to eat for lunch, know when they are being eaten!
Now, you might be wondering if this means that you shouldn’t be eating vegetables altogether. Nobody wants to feel like they’re intentionally doing anything to cause pain, especially for a helpless animal or creature, right?
Luckily, you don’t need to give up on your healthy salads. It may appear like some sort of ethical dilemma, but the fact is that it’s tough to make a meal out of anything that wasn’t alive at some point—plant or animal!
U.S. Department of Agriculture / Flickr
Perhaps one of the biggest takeaways from this surprising research is that we now have even more of a reason to be respectful towards our own planet and natural environment. And that includes whatever’s in our lunch bowl!
Tambako the Jaguar / Flickr
You really should listen to the noise that made those Arabidopsis thaliana plants sweat. Just make sure your house plants are out of earshot, though, because it might scare the chlorophyll right out of them!
What a fascinating discovery! There’s still more research that needs to be done before scientists can verify that these vibrations are a defense mechanism. Still, that doesn’t mean you won’t be thinking about it the next time you eat your veggies!
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