Who doesn’t know Venus Flytrap? Those naive small plants which trigger every child’s curiosity to use a pencil and see the reaction time. It’s like one of the most common child fantasies, including all the other things that we used to do when we were kids. Well, venus flytrap is the only one that belongs to the family of carnivorous plants. There are more than 500 plant species that can catch and digest plant species. Some have even evolved from typical flowering plants to insect-eating species to survive different environmental factors. But, do they need insect or meat as a part of their growing life cycle? Or does it replenish their other needs? Let’s understand the science behind these carnivorous plants.
Meat- A Need or Just a Part of Their Life Cycle
Unlike what you think, carnivorous plants are also dependent on sunlight for most of their growth and energy requirements. They do not eat insects or flesh as a source of energy. They use them as a source of other nutrients that they are unable to absorb through their roots because of the harsh environments. That made them evolve their mechanisms to catch prey. This could be a pitfall trap to adhesive leaves of sundews. While most of them rely on insects as a source of nitrogen, some of them are known to digest frogs or other vertebrates.
Nutritional Benefits of Prey Capture in Carnivorous Plants
Let’s take an example of a Portuguese Sundew that lives in a dry environment that is a bit ironic to the usual conditions where one could find carnivorous plants. It belongs to a family called Drosophyllaceae. While it is unique in several ways, it uses similar trapping mechanisms known to us. So, scientists used this plant as a model subject and tried to see whether or not they were using nitrogen from their prey. Or was it a lie? Skates and colleagues used the plant’s leaves to check the amount of nitrogen coming from the captured prey.
The reason they used nitrogen concentration as a part of their study is that it is one of the essential elements, and it is present at an unusually lower concentration and that this element is found naturally in two stable isotopes (14N and 15N). Ideally, normal plants have the lowest 15N:14N ratio, and it is seen that the portion of 15N will increase as one moves up the food chain from herbivores to carnivores. So, it is expected that carnivorous plants must have something in between the expected ratio of both forms of nitrogen as they get their nitrogen from both soil and insects. They checked the contents through the Elemental Analyzer coupled to an Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometer. The plants from one area had 36% nitrogen from insects while others had approximately 70% of nitrogen from insects. So, if you think all the plants behave in a certain way. It would be incorrect after seeing these results. A lot of factors play their part ranging from the availability of prey to the soil properties where they are growing.
It was also not right to say that these plants were only extracting nitrogen from their prey. But, they could also be a source of carbon as well. The results could help decode the type of ecosystem a plant belongs to. In this study, the scientists concluded that capturing prey was a crucial part of the diet of this particular plant. So, if you deplete the existence of their prey, the plant won’t be able to thrive.
What Are The Characteristics of Carnivores?
Carnivorous plants come in different sizes as well as shapes. Usually, these plants have relatively higher intelligence as compared to herbivores. Carnivores have a single or simpler digestive system, unlike herbivores plants. Although they are dependent on catching their prey for fulfilling their nutritional requirements, however, the frequency might be different depending on their consumption of calories. Carnivores are a part of the top tier of any food web. So, they help to keep populations in check. Their extinction might lead to severe consequences. So, one must understand their biochemistry to make them less vulnerable to stressful conditions. They are essential, like any other entity on this planet. They need to be conserved.
Capturing prey is the need of carnivorous plants. They evolved to such mechanisms to replenish what they can not get through their ecosystem or environment. As they usually grow in soils that are lacking in essential nutrients. They are just trying to make up what is lost because of the harsh conditions. The concept of evolution is simply great. Plants who were supposed to be only dependent on sunlight are feasting on small and big insects. For them, it is just another name for a party which they can not have in their usual living conditions.