Did you know that there are plants that actually eat animal? These plants are called carnivorous plants. The word carnivore means “meat eater”. Often when we hear the word “carnivore”, images of the great dinosaurs come to mind. These mighty lizards roamed the earth billions of years ago, and although most ate plants, some ate other dinosaurs. Thankfully, these beasts are not around today, but carnivores are and some of them are plants.
While most plants get all the nutrients they need from the sun, rain, and soil, carnivorous plants do not. They grow in poor soil.
One of the most widely known carnivorous plants is the Venus flytrap. The first written reference to this plant was made in 1759 by Arthur Dobbs, the British colonial governor of North Carolina. The Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) received its name from John Ellis. The plant is named after the Roman goddess of love Venus. Its scientific name Dionaea is derived from the Greek goddess of love Aphrodite and the last part of its name muscipula means “mouse trap”.
Like all carnivorous plants, the Venus flytrap lives in nutrient poor soil. It is native to select boggy and savannah areas of North and South Carolina in the United States. Carnivorous plants use different types of traps to capture its prey. The Venus flytrap uses an active snap trap. This means that it moves to capture its prey.
The Venus flytrap has tiny pigments on its surface that gives it the red or purple color on its leaves. This helps to attract insects. The Venus flytrap also secrets mucilage which is a sticky substance that helps to trap the unfortunate insects. The trap is triggered once an insect lands on the plant's leaves. The trap closes in four separate phrases:
*The initial snap
*The tightening phrase
*The sealing phrase
* The reopening phrase
Once a trap closes, it begins to secret enzymes that turn the insect into a liquid that it then digests. It takes the plant ten days to completely digest a meal.
Believe it or not, Venus flytraps don’t eat regular meat. So, never feed it anything other than insects because it could kill the plant.
Venus fly traps are extremely rare. The only place that they grow in the wild now is a narrow strip of land ten miles wide and one hundred miles long on the coasts of North and South Carolina. It is against the law for anyone to pick wild Venus flytraps.
The Sundew plant (Drosera) gets its name from the way its gel shines in the sunlight. They are brightly colored, beautiful plants. They secrete a gel-like substance from mucilaginous glands that cover the surface of their leaves. When an insect gets stuck on one of the plant’s hairs, the hair wraps around the victim and prevents it from escaping. The mucilage that attracts the plants victims contains enzymes that turn the trapped insect into a soupy liquid that it later digests.
Sundew plants can live for over 50 years. These plants self-pollinated. They produce tiny black sees that germinate in water and light. Sundews are perennials which mean that they live throughout the year. Sundew plants do, however, hibernate in the winter months when temperatures drop below 45 degrees.
The Sundew plant has an inactive trap that becomes active once an insect becomes stuck on one of its tentacles. These tentacles slowly wrap around an insect’s body until it is literally suffocated.
The Sundew comes in all sizes. It can be as small as a penny like the pygmy sundew or it can spread two feet across like the staghorn sundew.
Pitcher plants (Sarracenia) use a rolled leaf that contains a pool of digestive enzymes to trap its prey. These plants do not move so their traps are called passive. There are many different kinds of pitcher plants. Some grow on long vines in tropical countries. Many grow in rainforests. Borneo has the biggest pitcher plants in the world. Some of these plants have stems that are more than sixty feet long and traps big enough to trap a tree frog or a small bird.
In the southern United States, pitcher plants grow in bogs. They look different than the tropical pitcher plants. While tropical pitcher plants hang from trees or cliffs, the ones in the United States grow out of the ground.
Pitcher plants have many fascinating assets. These include light spots, pointy hairs, slippy sides, and hoods.
Amazingly, the pitcher plant can actually be called home by some insects. Mosquito have been known to lay their eggs inside pitcher plants. When these eggs hatch, they live in the water inside the plants without being eaten.
Bladderworts (Utricularia) are another group of carnivorous plants. They have active traps that suck up their prey through a small opening. Bladderworts grow in waterlogged soil such as in ponds and lakes, and amazingly, they don’t have any roots. They can survive anywhere there is fresh water for most of the year, but they go through a resting period during the winter months.
These carnivorous plants have a beautiful flower on top and its deadly trap underneath the water. Bladderworts sacs are flat until an insect comes along and triggers one of its hairs. This plant can capture its prey in less than 1/30th of a second. Within two hours the plant has digested its meal and is ready for another.
There are more than 600 different kinds of plants that eat insects and other tiny animals. It is believed that these plants first appeared about sixty-five million years ago, and the oldest know carnivorous plant is the Aldrovanda. Scientists have found fossils of this plants seeds. The great scientist Charles Darwin was fascinated by the Sundew plant. He spent twenty years studying carnivorous plants and wrote an entire book about them in 1875.
Many carnivorous plants have become endangered because of poaching and the increasing need for new land to development. Carnivorous plants need to be conserved because they are an important and fascinating part of our world.