How Plants Fight Back Against Predators

iStock
iStock

Plants don't have the luxury of being able to run, swim, or fly away when confronted with a predator. Instead, they've developed a repertoire of defense mechanisms for warding off threats while staying rooted to the ground.

As TED-Ed points out in a new video lesson by molecular biologist Valentin Hammoudi, some protective adaptations in plants are obvious, like the thorns on a rose or the spines on a cactus. Others are less apparent at first glance. The Van Houtte's columbine in Northern California, for example, is covered in tiny, sticky hairs called trichomes that are hard for humans to see. But when hungry bugs come near, lured in by the plant's enticing chemical scent, the hairs act like flypaper and trap them until they starve.

Then there's Mimosa pudica, which deploys a defense tactic that's invisible but impossible to ignore if you're standing in its immediate vicinity. When its roots are disturbed, the plant releases an odor that smells like, in the words of one researcher, "someone has broken wind."

Sticky hairs and bad smells are just the beginning of the methods of protection observed in the plant world. Watch below to see how plants can use bark, toxins, and help from other species to stay alive.

[h/t TED-Ed]

Friday’s Best Amazon Deals Include Digital Projectors, Ugly Christmas Sweaters, and Speakers

Amazon
Amazon
As a recurring feature, our team combs the web and shares some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. Here’s what caught our eye today, December 4. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers, including Amazon, and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!

3D Map Shows the Milky Way Galaxy in Unprecedented Detail

ESA
ESA

It's our galactic home, but the Milky Way contains many mysteries scientists are working to unravel. Now, as The Guardian reports, astronomers at the European Space Agency have built a 3D map that provides the most detailed look at our galaxy yet.

The data displayed in the graphic below has been seven years in the making. In 2013, the ESA launched its Gaia observatory from Kourou in French Guiana. Since then, two high-powered telescopes aboard the spacecraft have been sweeping the skies, recording the locations, movements, and changes in brightness of more than a billion stars in the Milky Way and beyond.

Using Gaia's findings, astronomers put together a 3D map that allows scientists to study the galaxy in greater depth than ever before. The data has made it possible to measure the acceleration of the solar system. By comparing the solar system's movement to that of more remote celestial objects, researchers have determined that the solar system is slowly falling toward the center of the galaxy at an acceleration of 7 millimeters per second per year, The Guardian reports. Additionally, the map reveals how matter is distributed throughout the Milky Way. With this information, scientists should be able to get an estimate of the galaxy's mass.

Gaia's observations may also hold clues to the Milky Way's past and future. The data holds remnants of the 10-billion-year-old disc that made up the edge of the star system. By comparing it to the shape of the Milky Way today, astronomers have determined that the disc will continue to expand as new stars are created.

The Gaia observatory was launched with the mission of gathering an updated star census. The previous census was conducted in 1957, and Gaia's new data reaches four times farther and accounts for 100 times more stars.

[h/t The Guardian]