[The following is an exact transcript of this podcast.]
In the insect world, bright reds, oranges and yellows can be a warning: “Eat me at your own risk, pal.” Because colorful bugs can be toxic, they often get their chemical protection from nibbling poisonous plants. But these poisons can have a flip side for us—some fight cancer or tropical parasites that cause diseases like malaria.
They chose ten plant species that kill parasites and cancer in lab tests, and ten species that look similar but do nothing. Then they headed into the Panamanian jungle to survey hundreds of these plants for beetles and caterpillars. Turns out, they found colorful bugs on almost all the toxic plants but less than half of the harmless plants. And black, brown and gray bugs didn’t have a preference—they ate indiscriminately. So modern-day shamans scouring the jungle for cancer-fighting drugs might just cut down on search time by keeping an eye out—for brightly colored bugs.