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A Very Hungry (Tobacco-Eating) Caterpillar

While the nicotine in tobacco is bad for humans, it's not bad for everyone in the animal kingdom.

A close-up image of a dried tobacco leaf

Photo: Llima Orosa (flickr)

Another critter's poison is another's life saver.

We all know that smoking tobacco is bad for humans. It’s killed a lot of people after all.

However, if you’re a hornworm caterpillar, consuming tobacco can actually do very good things for you — even save your life.

This particular type of caterpillar has a gene that enables it to use the nicotine to its advantage. Once they eat some tobacco, they’re then able to puff out little clouds of nicotine vapor through holes in their sides, called spiracles. The nicotine puffs works as a sort of warning to predators such as wolf spiders that the caterpillars are toxic and not worth having for lunch.

Cool! So instead of having to endure being bitten to send a warning, the caterpillars have a sort of built in chemical defense system that warns predators from a distance.

Read More:

  • Nicotine Keeps Leaf-Loving Herbivores At Bay (NIH)
  • Real-Life Smoking Caterpillar Uses Nicotine As Defense (LiveScience)

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