insects

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There’s a Fungus Among Us and It's Making Peppers Spicy

Though the heat of the chili pepper has taken our culinary adventures to great heights, the spiciness of chili peppers was not designed to attract hungry diners. Spiciness actually evolved to defend the plant against fungal predators.

Peppers, like many fruits, are colorful, sweet, and appetizing, designed to attract animals that help bring seeds to new ground. But along with inviting animals beneficial to the plant’s survival, fruits also lure consumers that destroy seeds. Thus, fruit chemistry hangs in a delicate balance. The chemicals produced by the fruit must keep predators at bay, but must also not negatively affect seed dispersers. (more…)

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A Case of the Missing Microbes

Most animals depend on their gut microbes for digestive help. The caterpillar, however, seems to lack resident gut microbes all together.

By characterizing the microbial composition across 124 species of caterpillars from North America and Costa Rica, Tobin Hammer and colleagues at the University of Colorado Boulder found that caterpillars do not have microbial friends living in their gut. Fecal material from the caterpillars contained several orders of magnitude fewer microbes compared to other organisms. (more…)