04/19/2011 06:55 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Good Side of Bad Breath

This week's Animal Oddity is all about gardens and bad breath. With spring bursting forth around the country, people's minds are turning towards their gardens. Not long after, their minds usually turn to garden pests. That's where your bad breath could come in handy, but we'll get to that part in a minute.

To start, I invite you to take a closer look at an extremely odd adaptation of one of the most well-known garden pests: the aphid.

Aphids are insects that feed on plant fluids. They form swarms on herbaceous plants and using their straw-like mouthparts, pierce the plant stems and drink their fill. This of course can cause damage to the plants, which is why aphids are considered a garden pest.


Now, here's the bad breath part. When you're a tiny animal that lives your entire life hanging out on the stems and leaves of plants, you run the risk of being inadvertently gobbled by hungry browsing animals. Recent research has revealed that aphids have evolved a fascinating way of avoiding that fate. They are extremely sensitive to the breath of mammals, and when they detect the warm, humid and aromatic air that mammals exhale, the aphids instantly let go and drop off of the plant. In doing so they avoid being eaten. Researchers predict that further study will reveal that other insects use the same technique.

So, before you reach for pesticides at the first sight of an insect pest in your garden, you might try breathing on it first and see what happens!

Get the latest odd animal news, stories and behavior on my Animal Planet blog, Animal Oddities. You can learn how to create critter-friendly gardens from the National Wildlife Federation.

Photo of aphids by Bob Travis via Flickr Creative Commons.