How Does A Venus Fly Trap Work And Catch Insects?
The venus Fly-Trap is one of the world’s most incredible plants,” noted Charles Darwin in 1875.
What has Dionaea muscipula done to earn such esteem? Well, its ability to catch an animal as large as a frog and break down human flesh; not to mention counting is simply extraordinary!
But that is only half the story.
“This plant is very exotic,” according to scientists who conducted extensive research that identified traits within Venus flytraps that could strengthen our crops while also shedding light on root causes of many human illnesses.
Turns out we can learn much from a plant that acts like an animal and consumes like one: the Venus flytrap. From its swampy origins it evolved, driven by food – or lack thereof.
Origins of modern warfare have often been traced to ancient bogs – one of the harshest environments on Earth where nutrients are scarce, soil is poor and almost everything decays over time.
The professor notes that these plants originate in swamp areas around the equator where soil nutrients are lacking and where roots don’t perform very efficiently, providing nourishment through animal sources such as food.
Droseraceae family contains around 150 living species; all are carnivorous plants.
Dionaea muscipula and Aldrovanda vesiculosa, two rare sister species to this Venus flytrap species, fall within the umbrella genus Drosera or sundews (commonly known as sundews).
Venus flytrap and waterwheel plants are unique species in their genera; both boast rapid capture mechanisms to capture prey.
Although carnivorous plants have evolved multiple times independently, snap-traps may only have emerged once; likely in the common ancestor of Aldrovanda and Dionaea.
“These traps don’t recognise animals – instead, they respond to mechanical stimulation,”
“When animals cross a plant, it generates force, and two touches within five seconds are enough for it to close. One touch may just be an accidental start-up; two means there is something there.”
Once prey has entered a Venus flytrap’s jaws – often drawn there by its tempting sweet nectar scent – the predator-killing machine gets ready to close its clasps quickly and tightly.
Venus flytraps feature sensory trichomes – external hairlike structures which sit atop its surface to detect signals from passing prey – that allow it to pick up signals sent out by nearby predators.
These trichomes work like a trap: their connections to an ion channel allow it to be activated by touch or pressure.
“Typically it closes by 90 to 95 per cent; however, if an animal struggles and sends additional signals of discomfort, then additional signals will be sent which cause it to close completely,”
Venus Flytraps have long been used as traps. When anything stays still long enough to trigger their jaws to close quickly enough, most things, including frogs can be caught.
At that size, it appears as though that frog managed to escape before the plant could begin digesting it.
From exoskeletons to salt overload, the Venus Flytrap has perfected one of the fastest movements ever seen in a plant to capture and digest prey with ease.
Once an insect is sealed within its snap-trap, special glands of the plant will release digestive enzymes to break down its exoskeleton and break down any adhesions or barriers protecting its exoskeleton.
Once a Venus flytrap has made its way through that barrier, it will begin processing an insect’s nitrogen-rich blood known as haemolymph.
And if you were curious, Barry Rice from the International Carnivorous Plant Society provided proof: He placed some freshly shed skin into a Venus flytrap to see what kind of damage could occur:
“After one week, the traps opened. While I anticipated that skin chunks would remain relatively undamaged by digestion, they had almost completely been consumed; what was left no longer held together but instead became gooey and slimy.”
One challenge carnivorous plants must face is that their food tends to be much saltier than most plant foods; thus necessitating adaptations that allow their cells to release excess sodium from within their tissues.
Professor and his team conducted a 2016 study to discover how they do this, and are now exploring methods to implement this trait into crops that can withstand saltier environments.
Researchers examined how salt moved from prey to Venus flytrap ‘stomach’ and discovered that special sodium transporters efficiently removed excess salt by depositing it in capture organs so it wouldn’t interfere with metabolism of the plant.
Researchers are now conducting tests with barley and rice grains that contain genes associated with sodium transporters to see if their response to salt overload matches up.
Professor learned from these exotic situations how to make their applications more practical.
Professor and his team have developed and are employing to study the behavior of Venus flytrap ion channels goes well beyond Plant Kingdom.
Approaching human conditions and diseases using this same approach, Ion channel disorders have been linked with various human disorders from epilepsy and Alzheimer’s disease, to cystic fibrosis and colour blindness.
“This research is significant because over 50 inherited diseases worldwide can result from malfunctioning of specific ion channels,” stated Professor the professor.
“Additionally, there could be 50 to 150 transporters we missed due to limitations imposed by techniques available at that time.
Charles Darwin may have chosen incorrect carnivorous plants when he pledged his allegiance. Perhaps Drosera should have been his choice?