FROM THE ZOO TO YOU: It's green all over and new to the zoo

1/23/2014

What has teeth, eats bugs, is green all over and is new to the zoo? If you guessed frog or snake, I'm sorry but this time you would be incorrect. While zoos do tend to focus on animals, we have always been very proud of our flowers, trees and other plants that make up our beautiful landscape. Now we are excited to share our latest exhibit, which showcases some different kinds of plants: the ones that eat meat!

What has teeth, eats bugs, is green all over and is new to the zoo? If you guessed frog or snake, I'm sorry but this time you would be incorrect. While zoos do tend to focus on animals, we have always been very proud of our flowers, trees and other plants that make up our beautiful landscape. Now we are excited to share our latest exhibit, which showcases some different kinds of plants: the ones that eat meat!

Located in the Finnup Center for Conservation Education, our new display "Snaps, Traps and Lures, the World of Carnivorous Plants" features a variety of Venus fly traps, pitcher plants and sundew plants. Despite their ability to photosynthesize (make their own energy from the sun), these plants are unique because they are mostly found in very poor quality soil. Since plants obtain additional nutrients from the dirt they grow in, these plants had to find another way to gain the resources they needed for survival. Their solution: insects.

While fly traps, pitcher plants and sundew plants all digest insects, their methods of capturing their unsuspecting victims are quite different. Most people are familiar with Venus fly traps, especially if they have ever seen the musical "Little Shop of Horrors." They have broad, modified leaves with traps at the ends that produce sweet nectar to lure their prey. These traps are edged with "teeth" and have tiny trigger hairs on the inside. If the trigger hair is touched twice (or two separate hairs touched at once) then the plant quickly closes, trapping the insect inside. Once the insect is successfully contained, the trap secretes digestive juices that break down the insect so it can be absorbed by the plant over several days. The fly trap also can distinguish whether the object it has captured is edible or not. If, for instance, a piece of dirt falls into the trap and causes it to close, the trap will reopen after several hours and the offending piece of dirt will often be blown out by the wind.

Pitcher plants and sundew plants use a more passive, but equally effective, strategy to capture their food. Just like their name suggests, pitcher plants are shaped like a cup that allows water to collect at the bottom. They also have small hairs around the cup that point downward. Insects are lured to the plant by sweet nectar and the promise of a refreshing drink only to fall into the water-filled pitcher. They are then unable to climb back out because of the hairs and eventually succumb to a watery death.

Sundew plants use the glue-trap approach. By coating their leaves with sticky glue that glistens in the sunlight like morning dew, any insect that comes into contact with them promptly gets stuck and unable to move. The leaves then will curl up around the insect, ensnaring it even further, and release digestive juices so that the nutrients can be absorbed.

While these plants may sound like something straight out of a science fiction novel, they are actually located here in the United States! Pitcher plants and sundews have a broader home range (depending on the species), while fly traps are limited to the boggy regions of Florida, and North and South Carolina.

So now that we have you "snared" by these intriguing plants, be sure to stop by the Finnup Center Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. to view our bug-eating plants in person! If you look close, you might even see an insect being digested by these amazing carnivores. Our new exhibit is thanks in part to Roth Glass, California Carnivore, Finnup Trust Foundation, Culligan Water and especially Gary Gipson from Gipson Diamond Jewelers, who donated his time, resources and expertise to make our exhibit possible. Gary has a side business of cultivating fly traps to sell to individuals and businesses, so if you would like to be the proud owner of your very own fly trap, you can visit Gary's website at http://www.flytrapculture.com/ or "like" him on Facebook to find out more.

Happy hunting!

comments powered by Disqus
I commented on a story, but my comments aren't showing up. Why?
We provide a community forum for readers to exchange ideas and opinions on the news of the day.
Passionate views, pointed criticism and critical thinking are welcome. We expect civil dialogue.
Name-calling, crude language and personal abuse are not welcome.
Moderators will monitor comments with an eye toward maintaining a high level of civility in this forum.

If you don't see your comment, perhaps you ...
... called someone an idiot, a racist, a moron, etc. Name-calling or profanity (to include veiled profanity) will not be tolerated.
... rambled, failed to stay on topic or exhibited troll-like behavior intended to hijack the discussion at hand.
... included an e-mail address or phone number, pretended to be someone you aren't or offered a comment that makes no sense.
... accused someone of a crime or assigned guilt or punishment to someone suspected of a crime.
... made a comment in really poor taste.

MULTIMEDIA