Corn Defends Itself, Peacocks for Insect Control and Mining Mess

Corn emits a chemical to attack predators, using peacocks as pets and pest control, and the problem with mining in residential areas.

| February/March 1993

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    Peacocks on parade: They may be pretty, but cover your crops- and your ears!
    PHOTOS: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF

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Corn Wages Chemical Warfare

When caterpillars attack corn leaves, corn fights back. First a signal is emitted; then the corn kernels call in a troop of parasitic wasps to surprise attack the caterpillars. Female rescue wasps lay their eggs directly into the enemy caterpillars, and when they hatch, the larvae feast on the caterpillar's insides. As the larvae mature, they crawl out of the caterpillars as wasps and fly away. Mission accomplished.

All right, you buy the part about the wasps, but what is this corn-signaling-for-help nonsense?

According to researchers Ted Turlings, Ph.D., and James Tumlinson, Ph.D., of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Gainesville, Florida, corn emits a distress chemical, or turpenoid, when it senses caterpillar saliva. (Call it the "spit factor.") Wasps then pick up the turpenoid's scent and fly over to save the day.

The two researchers are currently trying to figure out why the corn reacts to the caterpillar's saliva. They are also rearing wasps in the laboratory and "teaching" them to read the corn's distress signal. Turlings and Tumlinson have developed a synthetic blend (similar to the turpenoid) that not only attracts wasps, but also poisons caterpillars and acts as an antibiotic against fungus and bacteria.



Turlings and Tulinson hope that one day farmers will sic 'em on cornfields by the swarm.

Bug-Eatin' Lawn Ornaments

Peacocks aren't just proud, they can be downright arrogant. Perhaps they have the regal appearance to pull it off, but nice garb shouldn't grant the right to cast looks.






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