The Web of Life (15-5) Wintergreen Oil

 Wintergreen Oil

Wintergreen oil is an organic ester made by many plants, particularly wintergreens, as an anti-herbivore defense. Citrus tree leaves produce wintergreen oil when damaged as a warning to relatives. The jumping plant louse hones in on the scent of wintergreen oil from citrus trees, whose sap is the only food of its young offspring.

Liberibacter bacteria infect citrus trees. They hijack plant scent production, forcing the release of wintergreen oil to mimic an attack by plant lice.

The jumping plant lice that fly to the source are duped: they will not find much food there, as the bacteria have drastically lowered the nutritional quality of infected leaves.

This is a trick that forces the lice to seek another tree, this time carrying the bacteria who have hitched a ride. Thus, the bacterial infection spreads to other citrus trees, where it causes the deadly citrus greening disease.

The wasp Tamarixia radiata lays its eggs on young plant lice so that its larvae can feed on the lice. The wasp finds its prey by eavesdropping on the odor exchanged between bacteria, trees, and lice.

Hence, wintergreen oil is a scent of deceit, shared among plants, bacteria, lice, and wasps, with the plants and lice paying the price.