Cyanide for Breakfast? (Part 1 of 2)
On today’s and tomorrow’s Creation Moments Minute, we’ll introduce you to a most remarkable vine … and an even more remarkable butterfly.
Tropical passion vines have a unique defense against insects that would nibble on their leaves. Its leaves contain sealed packets of cyanide that are made inactive by being linked with sugar molecules. There are other sealed packets on the vine with an enzyme that releases the sugar molecules, activating the cyanide. So when an insect chews on the leaves, both packets are broken, the cyanide is activated and another predator is gone.
However, the caterpillar of one tropical butterfly can munch away happily on the leaves, oblivious to the cyanide, apparently immune to the powerful poison. Why didn’t the caterpillars die?
Scientists didn’t use evolutionary philosophy to find the answer. They used the techniques of science, nothing more, nothing less. The answer coming up on tomorrow’s broadcast.
Ref: Science News, 7/22/00, p. 59, “How butterflies can eat cyanide.”