Carnivorous plants feed on insect to achieve necessary nutrients for survival
by Allyson Koerner
Categories: Gallery, Science.

Do you remember sitting in school and learning about how plants grow and get their nutrition? Who hear remembers them chomping down on insects to get their nutritional requirements file Do you remember learning about carnivorous plants, or those that enjoy munching on insects? No, I don’t either. Well there are all sorts of insect eating plants out there that your teacher forgot to inform you about. Sit back, relax and get ready for your lesson on carnivorous plants that have a hard time saying no to trapping insects, or sometimes rats, to stay alive.

1. South African King Sundew (Drosera regia)

The South African king sundew is a carnivorous plant residing in the South African ValleyThe South African king sundew, found only in the South African valley, was named for its remarkable appearance by South African botanist Edith Layard Stephens. It is the largest of its kind with leaves reaching heights up to two feet and has some of the most unique characteristics of any sundew. For example, it contains some of the oldest qualities within its genus and also shares a close evolutionary relationship with the Venus flytrap. Regarding its carnivorous state, the king’s leaves are covered with tentacles and produce sticky mucus, acting like flypaper aiding in the capture of butterflies, moths and beetles. The tentacles then tightly curl around the prey. Usually, this specific sundew goes inactive during colder months, and then starts growing from October to April.
Photo Credit: Flickr/Ryan Kitko

2. Tropical Pitcher Plant (Nepenthes lowii)

The tropical pitcher plant gets nutrients from bird and shrews excrementThis beautiful tropical pitcher plant, endemic to the Borneo region in southeast Asia, is quite the deceiver and its distinctive shape helps in every way to lure in prey. As you can see from the photo, the plant resembles a pitcher, hence the name. It has a skinny “waist” and big bowl on the bottom, which are all necessary for digestion. Within the bowl acidic digestive juices reside, and its narrow waist helps to keep rainwater away so the liquid is not diluted. When capturing food, the plant lures in prey by emitting a sweet smell. Each pitcher plant has a lid, which remains closed until fully grown, with coarse bristles that are oozing with a white, sugary, nectar substance. The aroma attracts bugs, which end up falling into the plant’s mouth due to its slippery surface. As one of the most unusual plants of its genus, the tropical pitcher plant also is said to attract birds and shrews, whose excrement is used for nutritional value.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons/JeremiahsCPs

3. Venus Flytrap (Dionaea muscipula)

The Venus flytrap uses electricity to catch preyThe Venus flytrap is probably the most common of all carnivorous plants, but did you know it uses electricity to ensnare its meals? Here how it happens courtesy of National Geographic, “When one or more of its surface hairs are brushed twice—an energy-conserving system that distinguishes prey from other stimuli—an electrical charge signals cells on the outside of the leaf to expand, swiftly warping the shape of the plant’s thumbprint-size lobes from convex to concave and snapping them shut.” The plant’s cilia comes together, but let’s inadequate prey escape while munching on food worth savoring. Luckily for us living in the United States, we can observe the Venus flytrap in northeastern South Carolina and southeastern North Carolina, with a smaller population growing in northern Florida.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock

4. Rat-Eating Pitcher Plant (Nepenthes attenboroughii)

The nepenthes attenboroughii or rat-eating pitcher plant is named after Sir David AttenboroughHere is yet another unique pitcher plant. Now, let’s get some perspective. It was first discovered in 2007 on Mount Victoria in the Philippines, so it’s fairly new. This particular pitcher plant is one of the most interesting carnivorous plants (if I do say so myself), because it eats rats. Yes, you read that right. As one of the largest pitcher plants, it is declared to be the “largest meat-eating shrub.” Stories were heard of this mysterious plant and finally a team discovered it. You may be wondering how rats are digested by a plant. Well, the pitcher plant is big enough to hold rats, which are dissolved by acid-like enzymes. Another interesting fact is it is named after Sir David Attenborough, a British natural history filmmaker known for eco-documentaries like “Frozen Planet” and “Planet Earth.” The plant doesn’t completely rely on rats, but also eats insects. Click here to see a photo.
Photo Credit: New England Carnivorous Plant Society

5. California Pitcher Plant (Darlingtonia californica)

California pitcher planet resides in California and uses transparent hood to lure preyThe California pitcher plant is quite a beauty to look at. It possesses bright colors and unique features like a cobra lily for its head, a forked tongue and long tubular pitcher. This pitcher plant, native to the West Coast of the U.S., varies in its digestive manner from other plants in its family. Instead of relying on digestive enzymes, it has none. Symbiotic bacteria take over the job of digesting insects into yummy nutrients. The dark reddish-purple coloring of its leaves attract bugs and even has a transparent hood used to trick insects. For example, when a fly enters the pitcher plant’s hood it flies upward thinking it’s going straight into the sky, rather than entering a predatory zone. This pretty plant is definitely more than meets the eye.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons/ Noah Elhardt

6. West Australian Pitcher Plant (Cephalotus follicularis)

The west Australian pitcher plant grows in AustraliaThe west Australian pitcher plant, or sometimes called an Albany pitcher plant, can be found in the regions of Australia. This special pitcher plant doesn’t have ordinary leaves, but leathery, hairy ones, with three ribbed nectar-seeping glands that are all used to guide prey straight into its mouth. It even has teeth, more like spines, which lead into a pool of digestive juices. Another fun fact is that this pitcher plant can change color. If in the shade it’s green and if in the sun it’s deep burgundy. It can be found growing in freshwater regions, in road ditches and peat bogs, while preferring acidic sandy or peaty soils.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Florent Chouffot

7. Parrot Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia psittacina)

The Parrot pitcher plant is similar to the California pitcher plantHere is another pitcher plant found in the southeastern United States. The Parrot pitcher plant likes to grow submerged in bogs or sandbanks, while capturing an array of insects like arthropods, ants and slugs. Similar to the California pitcher plant, this one also has a hood used to luring in nutrients. Hairs line the hood, all pointing down, which makes it impossible for prey to escape. In addition to hair, nectar also secretes from the plant attracting food. You could say all pitcher plants get a taste of their own medicine, as Exyra moths feed on these particular plants eventually destroying tissues and damaging the plant by feasting so much that the top of the pitcher droops over. Ouch, that’s not so nice.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Sarah Stierch

Now, how cool are these plants? You may not hear about them often, but they did make the news recently. According to a new study, carnivorous plants living in Swedish bogs are turning into vegetarians thanks to nitrogen pollution. However, the pollution may also cause extinction. Let’s keep these plants alive. It’d be a disgrace to lose something so unique.

Photo No. 1: Shutterstock

About Allyson Koerner

Allyson Koerner is a graduate from Emerson College where she obtained her Master’s in Print & Multimedia journalism. Passionate about writing, reading and entertainment, she is looking to make her way into the journalism profession.

View all posts by Allyson Koerner →
  • http://www.cunabulum.com/ Ryan Kitko

    A few corrections for you so that the inaccuracies are not perpetuated:
    1) In the section on Nepenthes attenboroughii, you described how it is the rat-eating pitcher plant and that it gets its nutrients from rats. Not true! No plant of this species has been found capturing anything but the standard arthropods in the wild or in cultivation; the press around the discovery of this species was just running wild since it was “large enough to capture a rat.” True, some other Nepenthes species do occasionally drown a rodent, but this is more but accident than by adaptation, much like how we always found a few unfortunate birds or squirrels in our swimming pool every summer.
    2) On Darlingtonia, at least one study has shown that it does produce a digestive enzyme secreted into the pitcher.
    3) Oh, and the study you mention at the very end about pollution turning carnivorous plants vegetarian is absolutely ridiculous. The study did show that the plants trapped fewer insects and obtained more nitrogen from the soil, but nowhere was it implied that the plants were eating other plants (vegetarianism). You fell for the over-the-top headlines that misrepresented the science and didn’t read the scientific paper behind them. Not that I expected great scholarship from Ecorazzi…