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Buzz Off!

Buzz Off on today's Moment of Science.

Most people can't tell wasps or bees apart by sound. A recent study shows that some leaf-eating caterpillars can't tell the difference between wasps and bees by sound either. Bees don't usually hurt caterpillars, but some wasps eat those hairy little guys.

This study showed that when some caterpillars hear buzzing nearby, they stop their leaf munching and head for the hills because they don't know if the buzz maker is a harmless bee or a predatory wasp.

This is good news for the plant since the caterpillar doesn't munch on so many of its leaves if there's a bee nearby.

The study found that fruitless plants sustained sixty- to seventy-percent less leaf damage by caterpillars when bees were around than when the caterpillars were left alone with the leafy greens. Bees are pulling double duty for plants: not only do they pollinate flowering ones but they also scare off plant eating bugs from plants within earshot of the bees' buzzing.

With this finding, we might someday be able to improve food production; if we could get more bees buzzing around our crops, scaring off pests, we might get higher yields using fewer pesticides.

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