Outdoors just for kids: When bad breath is a good thing

2014-01-16T00:00:00Z Outdoors just for kids: When bad breath is a good thing The Billings Gazette

My dog has really bad breath. When she comes and pants next to me, it’s very stinky. Sometimes I get up and move so I don’t have to smell it.

After I eat garlic or tiny fish called sardines, my breath is pretty terrible, too. At times it’s been bad enough to make people take a step back in disgust and fake horror.

Turns out, there’s a caterpillar that actually uses something similar to bad breath to protect itself from spiders.

Researchers thought that tobacco hornworm caterpillars used the chemical nicotine, found in tobacco plants the caterpillars eat, to repel wolf spiders. The plants actually use nicotine – a poison – to try to keep bugs from eating them. Humans even use nicotine as an insecticide to keep bugs off plants.

The scientists’ study found that the tobacco hornworm caterpillars store up some of the nicotine in their blood when they eat tobacco plants and then puff it out from small holes in their body as a type of “toxic” bad breath.

By altering some of the caterpillars so they couldn’t use the nicotine, the scientists found that the wolf spiders preferred to eat the ones without the chemical.

So what’s the lesson here? If you don’t want to be eaten by a spider, make sure you have bad breath.

– Brett French, Gazette Outdoors editor

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Brett French

Outdoors editor for the Billings Gazette.

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A collection of Just for Kids stories and illustrations by Brett French and John Potter.

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