One would probably assume that around the world, it is more common for animals to eat plants than the other way around. However, there are exceptions to this rule. Over 600 different plants are actually ones that feed on living, mobile creatures. In fact, researchers recently discovered North America’s newest carnivorous plant.
A previously unassuming plant hardly anyone noticed has been trapping insects and eating them. This plant is common in boglands across the Pacific Northwest of the United States and similar spots in Canada. Various plant families have all developed their own taste for meat, and they’ve done so separately. The newly discovered carnivore is in the order of Alismatales, known specifically as T. occidentalis. It’s assumed that it joins other plant species who eat animals given poor nutrition in their soil. Phosphorous and nitrogen are both crucial nutrients to carrying out the process of photosynthesis, and insects can provide that to plants needing them.
T. occidentalis is in areas somewhat close to many urban centers, but it wasn’t until recently that it was recognized as being carnivorous. Researchers from both Wisconsin and British Columbia found that plants like these trap insects on their stems by using sticky hairs. These hairs don’t have the strength to catch pollinating insects, but smaller ones are much more prone to their traps. These sticky hairs were previously assumed to be defensive in nature.
The research team tested the plant by putting dead fruit flies that had been nourished using nitrogen isotopes on the plant’s sides. The light insects became stuck and were then consumed. Researchers found that nearly two-thirds of the plant’s intake of nitrogen after that came from the insects’. While not totally conclusive, it is very similar to nitrogen levels seen in many other plants known to be carnivorous.
Humans certainly have nothing to fear from a plant that can’t even trap pollinating insects. This plant is technically carnivorous, but it consumes nutrients directly through stem absorption thanks to the use of some creative enzymes. Pets and human beings are certainly in no danger of being eaten alive, no matter how eery the concept of animal-eating plants might be.
Still, it’s a fascinating look into the rich biodiversity of the planet everyone lives on. No matter how far science has gotten so far, there is still much to learn about the world.
Originally published on BarryNerhus.com