Plants are ingenious at coming up with ways to ward off predators, but all things being equal, insects are just as good at finding ways to overcome such obstacles.
Take for instance the asparagus beetle, so named because it lays its eggs on the common asparagus plant. When hatched, both the larvae and adults can cause massive damage to asparagus crops — mainly by munching on the tender growing tips and retarding growth. For years, scientists wondered how the beetle managed to secure its eggs to a plant covered with wax crystals, which make the branches practically virtually moisture-free and keep things from sticking. According to a new report, the secret lies in the beetle's glue. From the NY Times,
Scientists in Germany who study biomaterials have now figured out how the beetle does it. Dagmar Voigt of the Max-Planck Institute for Metals Research in Stuttgart and Stanislav Gorb of the University of Kiel say it secretes a compound, probably containing proteins, that has surfactant qualities — it spreads out rather than beading up. The compound forms a composite with the wax crystals, and as it dries it forms a glue that keeps the egg stuck.
The discovery is important because it may one day lead to plants bred with different surface characteristics — or even a spray that will dissolve the glue and keep the eggs from sticking. According to MSNBC, home growers of asparagus need not be concerned about the beetle. As the University of Minnesota Pest Management program points out, the insect's tiny eggs hatch in about a week, whereupon the larvae drop to the ground and bury themselves in soil "causing relatively minor damage to the spears."