What Happens If A Carnivorous Plant Wants More Than Insects?

Stewart Gasper

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Stewart Gasper

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    Showy and exotic, carnivorous plants cannot avoid a certain halo of mystery, but this one that now concerns us has eating habits that make it even more fascinating. Its insect-based menu has turned out to be insufficient to satisfy it, so it has decided to include a ration of vertebrates – specifically salamanders.

    Jug plants (Sarracenia purpurea) are a type of carnivorous plant very common in North America that are known for hunting hundreds of different insect species. But as a team of biologists from the University of Guelph have just discovered, those that live in the marshes of Ontario (Canada), a scarce place of nutrients, have developed a taste for this species of amphibians.

    Almost three captive weeks

    The scientists, who have published their work in the journal Ecology, discovered that 1 in 5 pitcher plants in Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario have taken the habit of capturing, killing and digesting salamander pups. “I looked over one of the bell-shaped leaves of the plant and instead of seeing a collection of decaying spiders and insects and other delicacies for that plant, I found a juvenile salamander with yellow spots, explains the biologist Alex Smith.

    Carnivorous plants capture their prey in leaves that really act as traps and contain a digestive enzyme. They have a waxy substance on their edge that makes it almost impossible for insects to escape. Once trapped, the victim rots in the rainwater. Salamanders take about 19 days to die.

    Smith shared his findings with Patrick Moldowan, a scientist at the University of Toronto who runs a research program on salamanders. Upon joining the team, he observed that many of the plants contained at least one young salamander caught about one human finger in length. According to the study authors, this is the first research that shows that these carnivorous plants, also known as turtle socks, make vertebrates a regular part of their diet.

    The Algonquin Wildlife Research Station provides facilities and logistical support for research projects in both Ontario and the rest of the world, especially in long-term studies.