The sun beats down on a hot, sandy savanna, and a small flying bug lands on a simple red leaf. A few seconds later … snap! The party’s over, at least for the bug. You might think that this bug’s demise happened in some exotic international location, when in fact, it was much closer to home.
This hungry Venus Flytrap is 15 miles south of Wilmington, North Carolina at Carolina Beach State Park. This area, and a 60-mile radius around Wilmington, is the only place on earth that this type of flytrap grows.
Prior to my visit to the park, I knew very little about these intriguing carnivorous plants, but after a ranger-lead tour and a bit of research, I’m amazed. What a marvel of evolution!
Like all plants, Venus Flytraps get nutrients from gases in the air and the soil. But, because they grow in poor, sandy, acidic soil, they developed the ability to capture and digest insects to supplement their diet. Scientists don’t understand the evolutionary history, but studies have turned up some interesting facts.
For instance, to prevent false alarms that waste energy and don’t produce a catch, the bug has to hit two receptor hairs within 20 seconds. This way, if non-edible debris blows in, the leaf doesn’t close. And initially, when the jaws close, there is a tiny gap which allows smaller insects to escape because they aren’t big enough to be worth the effort. However, if the bug is big and juicy, and continues to wiggle around, the lobes close totally, forming a “stomach” and digestion begins. It takes about 10 days to digest the bug, then the trap opens and the table is set for the next meal.
With all this “jaw snapping, bug sorting, stomach forming, and food digesting”, we’re still talking about a plant here … no brain, nerves, etc. What a marvel!
And to see a Venus Flytrap in action, check out this 30-second video of a bug becoming lunch.
1. By KaiMartin via Wikimedia Commons