Nature comes up with the best solutions to life’s little problems, doesn’t it? And this story is further proof of that. Caterpillars are rightfully scared of spiders, but they have a much better way of dealing with it than I do. I’ve been known to throw heavy objects across the room when I spy an eight-legged intruder, or to try and douse it with toxic chemicals. More often than not, I just leave the spider clearing to someone much braver than I. The tobacco hornworm caterpillar, however, has a better strategy. They like to munch on tobacco plants, and it turns out that they have a gene that enables them to slide that nicotine in their bellies up to their breath. You know, the way garlic and Indian food do. Just as those smells might repel someone of the opposite sex, they also repel wolf spiders, that prey on tobacco hornworm caterpillars.
The genius of this system can’t be overstated. Nicotine breath is nasty. I learned this by having a mother who smokes. My brother and I used to hide her cigarettes and incur her wrath, but we did it out of love. And because she smelled terrible when she smoked—hands, hair, breath, everything. Now I have to wonder whether she was trying to keep the spiders away, or even whether she was trying to get some time to herself. Either way, this is the first time I’ve found myself having something in common with a spider.