Sneaky Venus Flytraps Use Prey For Nutrients And Energy

By Maitreyi Mantha on February 19, 2017

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Venus Flytrap (Photo Credit: LynnB via Pixabay CCO Public Domain

The fact that the Dionaea muscipula, or Venus flytrap, feeds on unsuspecting insects by luring them into its jaw-like leaves with sweet-smelling nectar has been known for centuries. However, scientists thought the prey only provided the plant with essential nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous, that are severely lacking in their native habitats – the subtropical wetlands of North and South Carolina. They had assumed that like other vegetation, the carnivorous plants obtained their energy through photosynthesis – using light energy to convert carbon dioxide and water into sugar and oxygen. It turns out they were wrong.

A team led by Dr. Heinz Rennenberg and Lukas Fasbender from the University of Freiburg in Germany has uncovered that the crafty plants use the proteins extracted from their prey, not just for nutrients, but also as an alternative source of energy.

Photo Credit: Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg

The researchers, who published their findings in the scientific journal New Phytologist on January 20, reached this conclusion after feeding the plants highly enriched isotopes of carbon and nitrogen glutamine. They then monitored the amount of carbon dioxide released with the help of an infrared laser. What they noticed was that a significant amount of the carbon dioxide emitted during respiration was derived from the prey being digested, not from photosynthesis conducted by the plant.

The scientists believe the large amount of energy required to break down the insect’s proteins cannot be supplied by traditional photosynthesis alone. Hence, the plants jump-start the digestive process using energy from photosynthesis and then supplement it with that obtained from oxidizing the amino acids present in its prey.

Remains of digested fly gets tossed out once the Venus flytrap is done (Photo Credit: By Stefano Zucchinali ((Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

This is not the first time the Venus flytrap has impressed scientists. In 2016, Ranier Hedrich, a biophysicist at the University of Würzburg, discovered that the Venus flytrap does not waste energy snaring victims or producing digestive enzymes until it is sure that the prey is real. According to the researcher, the process begins when the insect lands on the trap. If it just touches the sensory hair on the leaves once, nothing happens. The smart plant knows that this could be the result of the wind or a raindrop. It is only when the unsuspecting creature triggers the sensory hair a second time that it gets trapped inside the leaf. However, the insect still has a chance to survive if it doesn’t move. That’s because it is the third trigger that gets the plant ready to produce the digestion enzyme and the fifth that get the digestive efforts going! It is no wonder that Charles Darwin called the Venus flytrap “one of the most wonderful (plants) in the world.”

Resources: pr.uni-freiburg.de, phys.org,theatlantic.com,phys.org

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amino acidscarnivorousenzymesextractedhabitatsinfraredisotopesjump-startluringnectarnutrientsoxidizingphosphorousphotosynthesispreysensorysnaringsupplementtriggersunsuspecting
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Article Comprehension (8 questions)

  1. How does the Venus flytrap catch its prey?
  2. Why does the plant need nutrients from the insects?

Critical Thinking Challenge

Do you think a Venus flytrap would survive in your backyard? Why or...

Vocabulary in Context

“It is only when the unsuspecting creature triggers the sensory hair a second time, that it gets trapped inside the leaf.”

In the above sentence, the word triggers most likely...

512 Comments
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  • pokesquid
    pokesquidTuesday, April 25, 2017 at 5:06 pm
    Creepy but amazing... already knew this but I didn't see a fly in action
    • MLIONSTuesday, April 25, 2017 at 12:29 pm
      THE VENUS FLY TRAP IS A FAMILY WATER SLIDE NAME IN GREAT CAMEL BACK LODGE
      • angie33
        angie33Tuesday, April 25, 2017 at 8:33 am
        I have some Venus Flytraps in my house!
        • fhaskjfboashkbvTuesday, April 18, 2017 at 7:35 am
          i wished cacti were like venus flytraps
          • hunterSaturday, April 15, 2017 at 3:40 pm
            at first it is creepy but then you are amazed
            • nnnnnTuesday, April 11, 2017 at 3:15 pm
              I liked your video it had amassing clips .
              • WoahTuesday, April 11, 2017 at 11:12 am
                I saw this and I was like WOAH
                • zzzzzTuesday, April 4, 2017 at 11:33 am
                  That fly just tried to live :C
                  • gusrms
                    gusrmsFriday, March 31, 2017 at 5:47 pm
                    wwow
                    • blueberryheatFriday, March 31, 2017 at 10:54 am
                      😨😰

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