I recently visited Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and it reminded me of how awesome nature is. The way nature works never ceases to amaze me. This week, I’ll be taking a look at some crazy carnivorous plants. There are roughly six hundred different species of carnivorous plants, but don’t worry, I’m not going to talk about all of them.
This post contains affiliate links. Read the disclaimer here.
What Makes a Plant Carnivorous?
According to the International Carnivorous Plant Society (yes, it’s a real thing) carnivorous plants have three elements that set them apart from other plants. First, the plant must be able to capture and kill prey. Second, it must have a way of digesting its prey. Third, it must be able to derive a significant amount of nutrients from its prey. Admittedly, the first time I read through these they seemed rather obvious to me. As I read on, however, I realized why these distinctions are important.
It turns out, carnivorous plants are not the only ones that trap and kill animals. Some plants trap their pollinators and accidentally kill them. Other plants still have aspects that act carnivorous, but the prey they catch doesn’t provide any nutrients to the plant. These plants are considered murderous rather than carnivorous. Who knew plants could be murderers?
Digestion is where things get a little tricky. While some carnivorous plants are able to digest their prey efficiently, others have lost the ability completely. These plants have to rely on outside organisms such as bacteria in order to get the nutrients from prey. This is why the second element is so important. While these plants don’t have their own mechanism, they do utilize a means of digestion. Therefore, they’ve been included in the carnivorous plant category.
Different Ways Carnivorous Plants Catch Their Prey
Carnivorous plants utilize six basic traps. The first of these is the pitfall. Pitfall plants use a modified leaf that acts like a bucket and holds digestive fluid. Prey slips or falls into this bucket and is unable to escape. The prey drowns in fluids, such as rainwater, that have accumulated at the bottom of the bucket. The plant is then able to digest the prey.
Another way carnivorous plants trap their prey is by using adhesive traps. No, I don’t mean the kind you buy at the store, but they do work in a similar fashion. Adhesive traps can be in the form of flypaper, fixed tentacles, or mobile tentacles. Each of these features glands that secrete slimy, sticky mucus that prevents prey from escaping.
Other plants use a lobster pot to catch prey, which features an easy-to-find entrance on the outside. Once inside, however, this entrance is difficult to locate. A pigeon trap is similar to this. Prey push through pointed hairs that only flow one way. Once they are past the hairs, they cannot go back.
Perhaps the most famous carnivorous plant trap is the snapping trap. When prey brushes up against the trigger hairs found within the trap, the plant snaps shut to enclose the prey. The expanding of cells found on the outside surface of each leaf bends both halves of the trap, effectively keeping the prey from escaping. The trap seals itself, digests the food, and then opens when it has finished.
The final type of trap is a suction trap. These traps pump water out of a sealed trap, which creates a type of vacuum. These traps work far too quickly for the human eye to observe. Not even high-speed cameras are able to capture the process in action.
It’s Not Always Simple
This certainly isn’t an in-depth discussion of carnivorous plants. The traps are usually a bit more complicated than I made them sound, and many of the plants use a combination of traps. If you’re interested, I encourage you to do some more research. You can start with the two resources I’ve listed below, and see where it takes you from there. These plants really are fascinating.
Brittnacher, J. What Are Carnivorous Plants? Retrieved Nov. 29, 2016 from http://www.carnivorousplants.org/cp/WhatAreCPs.php.
Mathieson, M. (2013, Jun. 5). Death Traps: How Carnivorous Plants Catch Their Prey. Retrieved Nov. 29, 2016 from http://theconversation.com/death-traps-how-carnivorous-plants-catch-their-prey-14811.