Killer Plant: the Venus Flytrap

If you thought killers were only limited to humans and animals, think again. One specific species of plants known as the Venus Flytrap, famously known for its carnivorous property, has grabbed the attention of many plant researchers for its non-plant like tendencies- trapping and killing animals.

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A photo of the Venus flytrap: Dionaea muscipula

The way in which this plant gains its energy and nutritional values is through ingestion and attack of animals using its unique trapping structure mainly on the leaves of the plant. The tiny hairs located on its inner surface contract when they come into contact with any sort of insect or spider and trigger the traps to close. The trap is only closed when a second hair is contracted within 20 seconds of the first hair being struck thus only inducing a deadly cycle of disintegration if the animal starts to panic. If the insect has triggered the trap to close but then decides to just sit still, the flytrap will eventually re-open its trap and permit the animal to leave. Moral of the story? Don’t panic.

The efficiency of the plant has been widely recognized and observed as a safeguard against energy wasting by trapping only animals with nutritional value. To ensure that no energy is wasted, the trap only closes shut when there is a likely meal and fluid production only occurs when there is prey to digest (dependant on the # of touches). This paragon of efficiency allows the plant to thrive in nutrient poor swamps and marshes where other plant species may struggle to survive.

Researchers have found that the number of times the victims touch the hairs on the leaves correspond with the degree to which the plant will attack:

  • One touch = nothing happens
  • Second touch= trap closes
  • Third touch = prepares trap for digestion
  • Fifth touch = triggers production of digestive enzymes
  • etc.

Therefore, the more the prey struggles to free itself, the more the efforts of the Venus flytrap to kill and digest increases. Below is a video of an earthworm getting killed after coming across a Venus flytrap.

 

As larger insects tend to struggle more aggressively and intensely, hairs are more likely to get triggered and set off electrical impulses which in turn, increase digestion rate. Following capture, the trap becomes sealed and fills with fluid to cut off oxygen supply to the insect and kill it through asphyxiation (air deprivation). The internal fluid becomes acidic (pH= 2) and fills with meat- disintegrating enzymes which allows the stomach several days to fully digest and absorb the dead animal.

Once the flytrap has finished its meal, the trap opens and reveals the dead insects empty corpse which is removed by either falling out or blowing away from the plant. The vicious cycle is then repeated with yet another poor victim.

More information on these plants can be found at:

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