Meat-eating pitcher plants raise deathtraps to an art | Science News

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Meat-eating pitcher plants raise deathtraps to an art

Green carnivores hunt with scum and sweets

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7:00am, January 6, 2017
California pitcher plant

FANCY FRILLS  Scientists thought the red-veined forked frill that grows at the mouth of a California pitcher plant’s water trap was an insect lure, but now they’re not so sure.  

Tricking some bug into drowning takes finesse, especially for a hungry meat eater with no brain, eyes or moving parts. Yet California pitcher plants are very good at it.

Growing where deposits of the mineral serpentine would kill most other plants, Darlingtonia californica survives in low-nutrient soil by being “very meat dependent,” says David Armitage of the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. Leaves he has tested get up to 95 percent of their nitrogen from wasps, beetles, ants or other insects that become trapped inside the snake-curved hollow leaves.

The leaves don’t collect rainwater because a green dome covers the top. Instead, they suck moisture up through the roots and (somehow) release it into the hollow trap. “People have been doing weird experiments where they feed [a plant] meat and milk and other things to try to trigger it to release water,” Armitage says. Experiments tempting the green carnivore with cheese, beef broth

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