YOUR WEEKLY DOSE OF WOWZERS AND WONDER FROM THE NATURAL WORLD
If there’s one thing you can always count on with nature, it’s that there’s an exception to everything.
This week’s issue is a Wowzerful example of this.
There are plenty of examples of herbivores out there (living things that sustain themselves by eating plants). But did you know there are carnivorous plants?
Meet the venus flytrap: a plant that eats bugs!
Native to North and South Carolina on the East Coast of the United States of America, the venus flytrap (Dionaea corymbosa) supplements the usual diet of minerals and nutrients from the soil and light from the sun with a decidedly different source: meat.
Growing up to around 13 cm (5 in) in diameter, the typical venus flytrap plant includes multiple snapping ‘traps’ that can be up to 2.5 cm (1 in) in diameter.
Most common varieties of venus flytraps feature a green outer layer with either a green or bright pink surface on the trap.
Covered in small hairs and lined with spikes that resemble teeth, the plant lies in wait for something to wander through.
But it doesn’t just rely on luck… the venus flytrap is a surprisingly smart hunter for a mostly-stationary plant.
It produces a layer of sweet nectar on the surface of each trap, luring in spiders, ants, beetles, flies, and other small unsuspecting creatures.
The small hairs on the surface of the plant detect movement and trigger the trap to snap shut.
When it does, the teeth-like edges of the leaves come together to seal the trap shut. The plant is then free to slowly digest its prey over the course of a few days.
Eventually, the trap reopens and the undigested pieces of the plant’s most recent victim fall out, and it’s ready to hunt again.
This unusual way of sustaining itself has drawn then the attention of scientists and explorers for centuries, with Charles Darwin calling the plant “one of the most wonderful [plants] in the world” all the way back in 1875!
Binomial Name: Dionaea muscipula
Life Span: 20 years or longer
Location:Native to N. and S. Carolina, but domesticated and grown all over the globe
While everyone focuses on the venus flytrap’s unique way of collecting snacks, it is also a flowering plant, producing beautiful white flowers.
As perennial plants, venus flytraps bloom every year. This helps them to survive the somewhat chilly winters of their native regions and return again when sunlight, temperatures, and bugs are more abundant.
Want to grow your own venus flytrap? It’s possible to buy venus flytrap seeds but you better have a window nearby. They require 12 hours of direct sunlight daily to thrive!
Venus flytraps don’t eat bugs to create energy, but instead, replace the nitrogen often missing in the acidic soils where they typically grow.
Every trap has exactly 6 motion-sensing hairs. Three on each side (or lobe) of the trap.
The sensitive hairs on the inside of the trap don’t just snap shut at any movement. Scientists observing the plant found it takes at least two touches to trigger the plant. This is thought to stop the plant from trying to eat debris or other indigestible material.
Big bugs can cause big problems for the flytrap, damaging its traps while trying to escape or causing issues with digestion. When this happens, the flytrap will lose a trap and grow a new one!
While most venus flytraps are green with green lobes or green with red or pink lobes, many plant breeders have created special varieties with unique appearances. One popular example is the Akai Ryu or Red Dragon variety which is a brilliant red and burgundy colour throughout.
See what goes on in the venus flytrap’s trap once it captures its next snack in this fascinating video.