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Pandora's avatar

Do caterpillars excrete something special that can heal plants after munching on them?

Asked by Pandora (29198points) August 12th, 2015

I have a pot that I have been growing mints in for the last 3 summers. They die back in winter and come back every spring. This year I had some really sad looking mints. They were long stalks with small skinny leaves. And it was sparse looking. Well one caterpillar got in my pot and in one day, it wiped out all the leaves only leaving the stalks. It looked like tall skinny toothpicks. Funny thing is by the end of the week all the leaves grew back, bigger and thicker and even more stalks grew.

You would think that someone gave it miracle grow. In two weeks time it is tall and full. I had given up on it. Especially after the caterpillar filled his tummy. So it had me wondering if perhaps the caterpillar, by natures design, excrete something to generate growth on plants.

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8 Answers

Antlertea's avatar

While I don’t think it’s something the caterpillar was excreting helping your plant grow I can offer you another reason. I study plant and insect interactions at university.

What I think might have happened is when the caterpillar came along and munched on your mints leaves the plant sensed it and starting producing a chemical which is meant to reduce it’s attractiveness to the caterpillar. Some of the chemicals plants produce when this happens double as growth stimulants. For some plants you can stimulate this response just by mechanically damaging them but for others they only respond to the actual organism either due to chemicals the bugs excrete or the sound of their leaves getting eaten.

Pandora's avatar

@Antlertea First. Great answer and welcome to fluther. I hope you stick around.

That may be the case. The mints were not smelling very strong and this new batch has produced some strong smelling mints.
I am curious about how the plant can grow new leaves. I thought all plants need leaves to survive. I was expecting the stalks to dry up and die.
I am curious to hear, how the sound of the leaf being eating would create such a response.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Sometimes hacking a plant down to the ground stimulates it to regrow more vigorously. Sounds like the caterpillar did it for you.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

One thought: Don’t plant chives in a garden. They took over an entire corner and I can’t kill them. Off the subject but an interesting lesson.

si3tech's avatar

With my oxalis, when stems got long and droopy I trimmed the whole thing down to about an inch tall and it quickly grew and bloomed looking great. Also with petunias when you pinch off the wilting blooms it will produce an abundanceoif blooms.

Antlertea's avatar

Thanks @Pandora. I look forward to answering more questions.

To answer yours I’m assuming your belief that plants need leaves to grow stems from the fact that leaves are the main source of energy production in plants. You are right that without energy a plant will die. However plants are able to store energy as starch. So long as they have stored energy they can continue to grow. However if the leaves were continually removed after growing back the stored energy would be depleted and it would most certainly die.

Pandora's avatar

Awesome. Learn something every day. Thank you for your answer. One of the reasons I love fluther.

Buttonstc's avatar

Speaking of the sound of munching leaves, I saw a doc on PBS in which they studied the effects of music on plants.

So, apparently, plants can hear and do respond to sound, both positive and negative.

@Antlertea

welcome to Fluther. We have a resident goose expert, several medical people but afaik not anybody who studies plants for a living. Stick around :)

Just for curiosity, which antlers are used for the tea? Is it supposed to have medicinal properties.

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