In Israel’s Negev Desert, a plant called sweet mignonett—or taily weed—uses a toxic “mustard oil bomb” to make the spiny mouse spit out the plant’s seeds when eating the fruit. Thus, the plant has turned a seed-eating rodent into a seed spreader that helps the plant reproduce, says a new study by Utah and Israeli scientists.
“It’s fascinating that these little mice are doing analytical chemistry, assaying the fruit for toxic compounds” and learning not to bite into the seed, says Denise Dearing, a coauthor of the study and professor of biology. “It adds a new dimension to our understanding of the ongoing battle between plants and animals,” she adds. “In this case, the plants have twisted the animals to do their bidding, to spread their progeny.”