The carnivorism is a nutrition style associated to animals, to the world of heterotrophs. But it has been seen that there are plants that are also able to feed on other organisms. They are called carnivorous plants and their strategies to capture dams are very different and curious.
WHAT IS A CARNIVOROUS PLANT?
A carnivorous plants , even being autotroph, get part of their nutritional supplement by feeding on animals, especially insects.
There are three basic requirements that carnivorous plants must comply:
- they must be able to attract, capture and kill the preys. To get their attention, they usually show reddish coloration and secrete nectar. Morphological and anatomical adaptations for retaining and killing the preys such as traps are used.
- Digestion and absorbance of the nutrients releasedby the damn .
- And finally, it has to draw significant benefit from the process.
WHERE DO THEY LIVE?
Carnivorous plants are not competitive in normal environments and tend to have a small root system, they need this specialization to allow them to grow faster. They are usually found in low mineralization soils, but with a high concentration of organic matter, sunny areas (as they still perform photosynthesis) and with a high humidity.
Normally they are also calcifuges, i.e., they are not well adapted to alkaline soils and prefer acidic environments, where the source of calcium comes from the prey. They tend to inhabit soils with low oxygen and saturated in water in a reducing environment. Some are aquatic and live either floating or submerged, but always near the surface.
TRAPS AND EXAMPLES
The capture system is quite diverse, but can be classified according to whether there is movement or not. We consider active strategies for those plants having mechanical or suction movements. Semi-active strategies which present mucilaginous glands and have movement and finally, passive ones, with no motion for prey capture. They can present mucilaginous glands or pitfall traps. Somes amples are given below.
In the case of this plant, the traps are mechanical and they are formed by two valves joined by a central axis. These valves are the result of non photosynthetic leave transformations. The stem acts as a petiole and performs photosynthesis, for this reason, it is thickened, increasing its surface and facilitating the process. Furthermore, the valves have nectar glands to attract preys and its perimeter is surrounded by teeth which help the capture, as when the trap is closed, the teeth overlay perfectly avoiding the animal’s escape..
But, what mechanism drives the closing? There’s a gigh number of triggers hairs inside the valves. When the dam is located on the trap and makes the trigger hairs move twice or more in less than 20 seconds, the valves close immediately.
Utricularia, the bladderwort
This plant lives submerged near the surface and is known as the bladderwort, because it has bladder-like traps. The bladders are characterized for having sensitive hairs that activate the suction mechanism of the dam. Then, the bladder generates a very strong internal pressure that sucks water in, dragging the animal to the trap. It’s volume can increase up to 40% when water enters.
In the following video we can see the bladderwort trapping a tadpole of cane toad (Youtube Channel: Philip Stoddard):
When I caught you, you won’t be able to escape
The presence of stalked mucilaginous glands is not unique in the carnivorous plant world, many plants use them as a defence or to prevent water loss. But, some carnivorous plants they are used to capture animals, as the sundews (Drosera) does.
The glands presents on the leaves of the sundews are formed by a stalk and an apical cell that releases mucilage. This substance attracts preys by its smell and taste. When the dam is located on the leaves, some drops of mucilage join each other to form a viscous mass that will cover all the prey, preventing its escape. We note that the glands have some mobility and move themselves to get in contact with the prey. Also, as a result, the leaf wrappes, facilitating the subsequent digestion.
The following video shows the operation of this mechanism (Youtube Channel: TheShopofHorrors):
Don’t get to sticky!
The Drosophyllum‘s case is very similar to the previous one, but this time the stalked mucilaginous glands don’t have mobility and, therefore, the leaf doesn’t have either. The insect gets caught just because it is hooked on it’s sticky trap and cannot escape.
Carefull not to fall!
Finally, we see the passive pitfall traps. They sometimes have a lid that protects them from an excess wàter getting in, even though it isn’t a part of the trap mechanism. The pitfall traps can be formed by the leaf itself or by an additional structure that is originated from an extension of the midrib (the tendril). The tendril lowers to ground level and then forms the trap.
Dams are attracted to these traps due to nectar glands located inside. Once inside, going out is very complicated! Walls may be viscous, have downwardly inclined hairs that hinder to escape or present translucent spots that suggest the prey that there’s an exit, acting like windows , confusing and exhausting the prey, making it fall to the bottom, where it will drown. Other species also release substances that stun the preys, preventing them from running away.
In some cases, large animals have fallen into these traps, though it is considered more as an effect of “bad-luck” than the plants supposed diet, though some traps measure up to 20cm long.
- Notes of Environmental Plant Physiology, Degree of Environmental Biology, UAB.
- International Carnivorous Plant Society – http://www.carnivorousplants.org