“The earth has music for those who listen”,
I felt like a child in pursuit of a butterfly, while penning down this article. This blog is dedicated to Mr.Rangasamy (my biology teacher) who instilled me the hymns of nature. To the man, who taught us more than science.
"In the shroud of the blue sky, the smoky clouds were hanging in there trying to embezzle the nature’s beauty. The canopies of trees were the able students to their masters sitting in heaven, brushing aside to nod their heads in acknowledgement. The air was scented with lilies, which could program the performance code in most primitives of this planet. Amidst all, she emerged from the golden ray of the sun, with her head pointing down. She unfolded her wings, which shone and vibrated, to let her muscles warm in the morning light. She loved sex more than her mate and lived in isolation all her life as a queen. The solitary wasp, the queen launched herself beside me, to hunt for its prey.
The wasp was few inches next to me, having landed on a huge hackberry leaf; it was waiting to pound on the caterpillar that was feeding the leaf. Perhaps, it’s a wonder that, how could a wasp far across could track her prey without radar. To unveil the mystery, the Mother Nature has the most intriguing answers to such thought provoking questions. There are approximately 300,000 plants and 900,000 species of insects, of which most eat plants. In this scenario, most plants would have been chewed up by them, but still we find green foliage encompassing us. Plants have evolved defenses in the name of chemical warfare against such attackers.
Plants need to stand their ground when pests attack and there‘s no turning back. They can’t scream for help, but they produce chemicals (green leafy volatiles) which can easily evaporate and attracts its bodyguards. The process is quite simple and symbiotic; the communication is so effective that the bodyguards hop on the leaves to dine on the plant eaters. A distress signal from one plant aids its neighbors, which can have a drastic impact on agriculture. This defense evolution of plants is significant in understanding their communication with other lives.
Plants took at least a few million years to manifest the several thousand chemicals in trillion ways to produce synergistic results which are quite complex. If the evolution has progressed exponentially, then our agriculture would have hit boom. All plants would have been literally kicking out every possible predator on earth; no pesticides and no crop destruction. Conversely, this never occurred; some plants were vulnerable. To understand this, we need a leaf from Darwin’s book ‘Origin of Species’.
Darwin emphasizes on the underlying concept, i.e. those individuals that are more responsive to change, can survive by means of evolution. It is a common misnomer that only the ‘strongest’ or ‘fittest’ survive; it is an ecological niche. For a population to survive, it needs both strong and weak to thrive. Stronger ones can’t survive without bullying the weaker ones. Just imagine, if only the strong or fittest survived, we would be rubbing shoulders with a population of Einstein and Muhammad Ali. The evolution doesn’t work like that; we have weaklings like apples which could be easily plucked and a pineapple with prickly thorns.
So, some plants can cry for help by means of loud signals, while others only whisper. Individuals which are termed as ‘fit’ in one particular environment need not be the same in another habitat. Cactus can survive in scorching sun but when you put the same in the poles, the rules of the game change. Survival is not just battling the weather and predators; it’s a ticket that Mother Nature throws to all. Every organism tries to increase its odds in seizing the opportunity. It’s no wonder that plants have evolved so much, leaving mankind far behind the race. If at all the mankind, the so called superior race of this planet have reproduced fitter ones, we wouldn’t be walking to our refrigerators to grab the leftovers and diet coke.
Now you can appreciate the signals sent by hackberry leaves, inviting the Queen (the wasp) to chew out the caterpillar. The chemical signals produced by them are in the order of few parts per billion, but still they exert significant bio activity. Normally when we fall ill, the doctor scribbles antibiotics and few vitamin pills for the next 15 days, so that the pharmacist pays for the doctor’s foreign trip. The antibiotics that we take, try to control the symptoms without curing. So, most medications are excreted back to the environment chemically unchanged. It’s said that most viruses and bacteria have evolved (except we humans) by gaining resistance to most drugs.
The lives of plants are extraordinary; with so many untold stories and process that are performed in loops remain hidden. What we see is staggering beauty, but we fail to appreciate its taciturn approach to most staggering issues. We act as charlatans with trivial things indoctrinated to awe at nature’s fecundity and aggressiveness. We aren’t alone, but with a superior race to maintain weave the sense of uncertainty and heal us when we fall sick.
OMG!!! Wait a minute; I could feel something moving in my jeans. Is a wasp sneaking in, that’s the last thing I needed. Damn, it was my phone crying, at the signal from my queen (not the wasp, but my female friend!!!).
Queen: Just finished my class, I’ll join u in 15 mins
Me: no worries, I m already in the park waiting for you for the past 30 mins.
Queen: I m so sorry to keep u waiting. What did you do so long?
Me: ahhhh!!! To be precise, I was missing you!! "