How Plants Fight Back Against Predators

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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]

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Andrea Piacquadio / Pexels.com
Andrea Piacquadio / Pexels.com

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The Reason Some People Never Return Shopping Carts, According to Science

Abandoned shopping carts could be a sign of social dysfunction.
Abandoned shopping carts could be a sign of social dysfunction.
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On the spectrum of aberrant behavior, leaving a shopping cart in the middle of a parking space doesn’t quite rise to the level of homicide. But poor cart etiquette is nonetheless a breakdown of the social fabric, one in which some consumers express little regard for others by failing to return a cart to its proper place. Why does this happen?

In a piece for Scientific American, Krystal D’Costa examined some plausible reasons why shoppers avoid the cart receptacle. It might be too far from where they parked, they might have a child that makes returning it difficult, the weather might be bad, or they might have physical limitations that make returning it challenging. Alternately, they may simply believe it’s the job of the supermarket or store employee to fetch their used cart.

According to D’Costa, cart returners might be motivated by social pressure—they fear a disapproving glance from others—or precedent. If no other carts have been tossed aside, they don’t want to be first.

People who are goal-driven aren’t necessarily concerned with such factors. Their desire to get home, remain with their child, or stay dry overrides societal guidelines.

Ignoring those norms if a person feels they’re not alone in doing so was examined in a study [PDF] published in the journal Science in 2008. In the experiment, researchers observed two alleys where bicycles were parked. Both alleys had signs posted prohibiting graffiti. Despite the sign, one of them had markings on the surfaces. Researchers then stuck a flyer to the bicycle handles to see how riders would react. In the alley with graffiti, 69 percent threw it aside or stuck it on another bicycle. In the alley with no graffiti, only 33 percent of the subjects littered. The lesson? People might be more likely to abandon social order if the environment surrounding them is already exhibiting signs of neglect.

In another experiment, researchers performed the flyer trial with a parking lot that had carts organized and carts scattered around at separate times. When carts were everywhere, 58 percent of people left the flyers on the ground compared to 30 percent when the carts were cared for.

Social examples are clearly influential. The more people return carts, the more likely others will do the same. There will, of course, be outliers. Some readers wrote to D’Costa following her first piece to state that they didn’t return carts in order to keep store workers busy and gainfully employed, ignoring the fact that the primary function of those staff members is to get the carts from the receptacle and back to the store. It’s also rarely their primary job.

Until returning carts becomes universally-accepted behavior, random carts will remain a fixture of parking lots. And ALDI will continue charging a quarter deposit to grab one.  

[h/t Scientific American]