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Source: Flickr/Eli Christman

How Scientists Are Saving Grasslands With Ghost Peppers

By Kristin Hunt

Have you ever tried a ghost pepper? This outrageously spicy veggie has inspired countless taste test videos that end in tears, and landed at least one person in the hospital. It measures one million units on the Scoville scale, which assesses chili pepper heat, making it nearly 300 times hotter than a jalapeño.

Understandably, most people run from ghost peppers — and it turns out, mice are no different. In a newly published study, scientists discovered that ghost peppers could be the key to keeping rodents away from seeds, thus allowing grasses and other native plants to grow.

The research, recently published in Restoration Ecology, was the result of a four-year trial in both the laboratories of Rocky Mountain Research Station and the fields of Missoula Valley. Biologists coated seeds in a ground ghost pepper powder to see if deer mice react to capsaicin, the active ingredient in chilis that creates their burning sensation, the same way humans do. The subsequent experiments indicated they do.