As a resident of this state, I know North Carolina has had a special relationship with tobacco going back centuries. Today, the state is the number one producer of the crop in the nation. The second largest tobacco company in the country, R.J. Reynolds is based in Winston-Salem, producing 25 percent of cigarettes sold in the U.S. In fact, according to a website of Duke University, tobacco accounted for 15 percent of all crops grown in the state in 2006. Regardless of one’s views on tobacco, research has indicated use of products made from the plant can be detrimental to humans’ health. But to the tobacco hornworm caterpillar, the plant is a life saver.
We all have encountered “smokers’ breath” on some people, but these insects use nicotine to repel predators. According to studies at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology, hornworm caterpillars divert nearly 1 percent of ingested nicotine into breath noxious enough to scare off wolf spiders. Nicotine works by poisoning various animals when contact is made. Yet, there is a price to pay for using this defense. Tobacco hornworm caterpillars become sluggish and have stunted growth when using nicotine.
Tobacco will always be a controversial crop. Nevertheless, one scientist suggested that the use of nicotine by the tobacco hornworm caterpillar is the first instance to show “bad breath” as a defense. That may be one of the many reasons tobacco has earned a less than stellar reputation in the human sphere of life. Indeed, North Carolina benefits economically from the crop. But I’m glad to know the plant has uses in other areas of nature.
Smokers Breath Saves Caterpillars’ Lives. Science News. Retrieved April 15, 2014, from: https://www.sciencenews.org/…/smoker’s-breath-saves-cate…
Tobacco – North Carolina in the Global Economy. Retrieved April 15, 2014, from: www.soc.duke.edu/NC…/tobacco/overview.shtml