If necessity is truly the mother of invention, then evolution is the grandchild of necessity. Just like humans and animals, when plants are forced into a corner; they invent. Normally, plants wait for other plant and animal matter to die and then extract nutrients from the soil or through the water. Some plants decided that waiting for animals to die is just not worth it and so they hunt and kill them and then take whatever they need and that is how we carnivorous plants came to exist. However, some of these plants have developed great machinery for hunting and killing animals that they have become better at it than fellow carnivores in the animal kingdom. Here are 10 carnivorous plants with the most amazing hunting tactics.
Regarded as the fastest carnivorous plants by the Guinness World Records, these plants are dreadful killers with an amazing speed when it comes to incapacitating prey. The plants don’t have established roots, so they rely on their bladder-shaped traps filled with fluid to suck in insect larvae and crustaceans for their nitrogen and phosphorus needs. The plants release water into the bladder-like pouches which are their own modified leaves and secure it creating a pressure difference with the surrounding water.
When an insect or crustacean touches the trigger hairs near a trap, the pouch opens forcing water plus the insect in and then the pouch closes shut. The process takes less than a second. The world record speed now stands at 5.2 milliseconds which is just too fast for any insect to escape. The pollution of freshwater which is the plant’s primary habitat has seen these plants enter the endangered species list as their numbers dwindle.
The Pimpernel Sundew
The bladderworts rule in the waters but this is the plant that holds the record for the fastest insect catching speed on land. Known as the catapult sundew, this plant has one of the most effective ways of capturing and immobilizing arthropods of any terrestrial carnivorous plant on the planet. Its shiny leaves which attract insects have a scent and produce some little nectar that attracts insects.
The leaves have two sets of tentacles; one with a sticky mucus-like substance that concentrates in the centre to trap and immobilize prey. The real shocker is the spoon-shaped tentacles on the exterior that can move at a lightning speed to catapult insects to the centre of the leaf to be trapped and digested. The plant is native to Southern Australia and Tasmania holds the record for being the fastest arthropod catcher on land at just 75 milliseconds.
The Venus Flytrap
This is one of the most common carnivorous plants around as they come in handy at home when you want to take care of stubborn insects while keeping your home beautiful. It is also one of the fastest arthropod catchers with a record speed of 100 milliseconds. The hairs on the top of each leaf act as interlocking teeth and are able to lock like a vice once the plant senses that an insect has been attracted to the nectar produced on the inner side of the leaves.
The plant actually has an inbuilt timer where the leaf only locks on the insect if the six hairs on the inside of the leaf are triggered at least twice within 20 seconds. The leaf will stay shut for up to two weeks once an insect has been trapped and by the time it opens, only a husk is left.
The waterwheel is believed to be the Venus fly trap’s water-based cousin as they both use interlocking leaves with teeth to capture prey. The waterwheel is way quicker than the Venus flytrap though as it uses the same pressure differential method as the bladderworts. Once insect larvae brush against their trigger hairs, the leaves snap shut digesting the poor insect before opening again for another catch. The waterwheels are also endangered which is sad because they are so good at reducing the population of mosquitoes by eating their larvae.
The Nepenthes pitcher plant is one of the most amazing plants on the planet. The plants modify their leaves to look like pitchers with the bottom filled with a digestive liquid that dissolves insects and sometimes small animals such as mice. The Rajah which is commonly found in Borneo has evolved to eat mice and tree shrews.
The plant has deep pitchers which are impossible for mice to climb out of once they fall inside. The mice are attracted by a smelly substance on top of the leaf which only acts as a slip trap for them to be sucked into the pitcher’s liquid and be dissolved. The pitcher also has a little umbrella-like covering on top to regulate the amount of water than enters the pitcher which prevents the dilution of digestive juices.
The Cobra Lily
The cobra lily is another pitcher plant that is built to kill unfortunate insects and other arthropods that may find themselves within its large pitch trap. Native to parts of Northern California and Oregon in the US, this plant looks like a cobra in both appearance and some of its feeding habits. It has two wing-like structures branching off at the top of the pitcher and a stigma growing out of the pitcher which make it look like a cobra pitching to strike.
Its pitcher has false exits that confuse insects trying to escape causing them to knock themselves silly and end up in the plant’s digestive liquid at the bottom. The bright leaves attract insects with a little bit of nectar but the inside of the pitcher is too slippery for insects to hold on and once inside, it becomes difficult to locate the exit causing them to go deeper into the pitcher.
The Byblis Rainbow Plant
Native to Southern Australia and parts of New Guinea, this plant is one that has developed myths and horror stories among Indigenous Australians who believed that it could even trap and digest a human being. It isn’t dangerous enough to digest a person though unless you collapse in a bush of rainbow plants for a year which would only mean one thing.
The plant’s leaves and flowers all secret sweet-smelling substances to attract insects while also secreting glue to trap them and digestive enzymes. The leaves don’t change shape to hide the insect after it has been trapped in the glue so strong ones may still escape. In sunlight, the glue on the plant’s hair shines with rainbow colours hence its name.
The Dewy Pine
This is another carnivorous plant that can be used to decorate your home because its dewdrops glitter when they come into contact with sunlight. Some people call it the honeydew because it releases the smell of fresh honey which attracts flies and other insects to its sticky leaves. It then lets the insect suffocate itself in glue as it rolls from one dewdrop to another since the struggle to get free from the sticky drops only leads to more glue covering the animal’s body. The suffocated insect then drops to the ground to rot and give the plant nutrients while the pine creates new dewdrops waiting for its next catch.
Growing up to 6ft high, this is one of the most majestic carnivorous plants you will ever see. It is a little malicious though because it catches insects but it cannot digest them. It has all the properties of the sundews and other terrestrial carnivorous plants that munch on insects but it doesn’t have the digestive enzymes that the others carry. Its resin is way more powerful than what the sundew releases but it is only for securing insects in place for other assassin insects and spiders to find. When assassin bugs come and eat these insects, the roridula feeds on their increment and that is how it benefits. It therefore leaves in symbiosis with the assassin bugs and therefore won’t trap them.
The Albany Pitcher Plant
This plant has been declared as endangered by the Australian authorities because it is rare and yet many people seek to keep it as a decoration for their homes. While it has pitchers like other pitcher plants, it is actually not related to nepenthes or any other pitcher plant on the planet. It is a monotypic genus plant meaning it is the only plant in the species and its genus. It creates low lying pitchers, mostly targeting crawling insects. It starts off as a regular plant with green leaves that get nutrients through photosynthesis. As it grows, it develops modified leaves that create beautiful pitchers with digestive fluid.