Plants that bite back
Plants aren’t all about pretty flowers and photosynthesis, sitting around waiting to be snapped up by a herbivore. Some turn predator, employing a variety of techniques to catch and eat animals.
Here we look at a handful of the plants that bite back.
Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula)
The most famous of the carnivorous plants, the Venus flytrap waits patiently for its moment to strike. When an insect lands in the plant’s “jaws”, it touches tiny sensitive hairs that trigger the plant to snap shut and trap its prey. It is native to the subtropical wetlands of the east coast of the United States.
Pitcher plants (many species, mainly members of the Nepenthaceae and Sarraceniaceae families)
With mouths gaping open to attract prey, pitcher plants secrete sweet nectar to lure passing insects. Once an insect lands, a waxy, slippery coating on the plant’s wall can cause the prey to fall into a pool of water that accumulates during wet weather. After falling in, insects have little chance to escape as digestive enzymes go to work. Different varieties of these plants are found around the world.
Cape sundew (Drosera capensis)
Sticky fingers and the ability to rapidly (by plant standards) change shape allow the Cape sundew to wrap around and trap prey that gets stuck on its mucous-covered tentacles. Once digestion is complete, the tentacles unfurl ready for the plants’ next meal. As the name suggests, Cape sundew comes from the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa.
Bladderworts (around 200 species of the genus Utricularia)
Bladderworts use a sophisticated ion transport system to pump material out of their tiny traps, creating a vacuum inside. Once maximum pressure difference is achieved the trap is set, meaning that any prey that disturbs the trap will cause it to snap back into shape, drawing in water, and prey, in the process. Bladderworts grow on all continents except Antarctica.
A beautiful assassin of the plant world, and a member of the same genus as the Cape sundew. It feeds on flies and other small insects. Each of its many arms has a sticky trap at the end that closes and traps prey unfortunate enough to land on it. Drosera derbyensis is endemic to Western Australia.