Many of us are drawn to the heat of a hot pepper, but it turns out pepper plants likely pack in the heat not to get more attention, but rather less. Scientists believe the spicy hot taste is actually what some pepper plants use to ensure their own survival. This act of self-preservation may not repel pepper enthusiasts, but it certainly repels insects, many animals and even fungi.
At least that’s what researchers now believe. It’s suspected that because most hot chilies thrive in a steamy hot environment, they’ve learn to adapt to the surroundings and arm themselves against an unwanted attack. That’s likely why plants growing in areas prime for fungal attacks seem to produce higher levels of capsaicinoids than those peppers growing in the opposite type of environment. Peppers increase in heat as they ripen too, again likely as a way to fend off attacks not just from fungal attacks but also from native pests. It’s generally thought it’s the capsaicin that deters pests such as rodents and insects from feeding off pepper plants, thereby helping to ensure a plant’s survival rate. Most animals aren’t attracted to the peppers either, because the plant’s using its own “heat” to deter predators most likely to cause it harm.
Birds, on the other hand, aren’t repelled by hot peppers and don’t appear to feel any pain from eating them, not even the really hot ones! Again, as an act of self-preservation, it seems hot peppers attract birds because they’re needed to scatter pepper seeds and ensure the pepper plants continue to thrive. Of course, people can certainly feel the heat of a hot pepper, and that’s often part of the attraction. If you’re one of them, eat up! There are plenty of peppers and easily available pepper products to go around.