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Plants Can Hear Themselves Being Chewed, Study Finds

07/03/2014 01:19 EDT | Updated 07/03/2014 01:59 EDT

Just when you thought you were doing mother nature a favour by cutting down on your meat consumption, it turns out eating leafy greens can be just as "bad."

According to a recent report from the University of Missouri-Columbia, even though previous studies suggest plant growth can be influenced by things like wind and touch, researchers are now determined that plants also have the ability to respond to the sounds of being chewed.

“We found that feeding vibrations signal changes in the plant cells’ metabolism, creating more defensive chemicals that can repel attacks from caterpillars,” said senior research scientist Heidi Appel in a statement.

Basically, plants in the study were able to "hear" themselves being eaten, creating a type of defense mode against their prey, the caterpillar.

Using a special laser microphone, the scientist were able to record the vibrations and sounds of caterpillars chewing on plant leaves. With these recordings, the scientists played them to the plants before caterpillars had a chance to nibble. As it turns out, when plants were exposed to these chewing vibrations for a few hours, they reacted by producing mustard oils — which caterpillars hate!

Now while this question of plants having feelings too (which makes a horrible counterargument for going vegan or vegetarian) has been busted by MythBusters in the past, researchers say this study is meant to protect plants in their natural environments.. and not your mouth.

"Understanding how plants detect and respond to sounds in their environment provides us with new ways to help plants defend themselves against their insect pests," she adds.

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