Little Bog of Horrors: 4 Types of Deadly Plants
It's not easy being a bug. Not only do they have to avoid being eaten by other insects and animals or being smushed by shoes, they also have to avoid the efficient traps set by carnivorous plants.
Carnivorous plants live in nutrient-poor environments, like bogs, where they survive by capturing invertebrates and digesting them for nutrients. There are several methods of entrapment that these unique species of plants have developed, making them experts at capturing those unlucky little bugs.
Four Ways Carnivorous Plants Trap Prey
Pitcher plants (or families Nepenthaceae and Sarraceniaceae) have rolled leaves that form steep, slippery sides leading down to a vat full of digestive enzymes and water full of bacteria, respectively.
If the deep burgundy coloring (mimicking decaying meat), floral fragrances, or the smell of trapped prey aren't enough to draw a prey item in, these plants also have cells that generate UV light to entice them further.
2.) Snap Traps
A Venus flytrap and the waterwheel plant (the aquatic cousin of the Venus flytrap) are perfect examples of a carnivorous plant with a snap trap. The plants' leaves are hinged at the base and when certain trigger hairs are touched in succession, the leaves shut with their prey inside. Plants with snap traps release digestive enzymes from glands on the leaves and, as the insect decomposes, the leaves absorb the insect. Once a meal is fully absorbed, the trap reopens and waits for its next victim.
3.) Suction Traps
Only found on bladderworts, suction traps are a unique, highly modified leaf. Bladderworts live in aqueous environments and their name comes from the fact that the leaves are shaped like a bladder. In the same way that the snap traps are activated by trigger hairs, the bladderwort has a hinged door lined with trigger hairs that seals its prey inside of the leaf.
Carnivorous plants such as sundews and butterworts excrete a sticky, gelatinous-like substance called mucilage from stalked glands that cover the leaves. An unsuspecting insect becomes instantly trapped, unable to break away from the adhesive. Once their prey is captured, these plants slowly roll down their leaves and digest the insect. There are 152 listed species of sundews and 80 species of butterworts.
Bonus: Want to learn more about carnivorous plants? We like Peter D'Amato's book The Savage Garden, Revised: Cultivating Carnivorous Plants (Ten Speed Press, 2013).
-- Image courtesy of iStockphoto/ejkrouse, iStockphoto/CHKnox, and iStockphoto/Argument
Christine Coester is an editorial intern at Sierra. A fan of flora and fauna, she has a passion for conservation and environmental stewardship. Currently a graduate student at the University of Missouri-Columbia, she is studying journalism with the hopes of making the world a better and greener place.