Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

No such thing as a free lunch for Venus flytraps

Date:
August 3, 2010
Source:
Oxford University Press
Summary:
Charles Darwin described the Venus flytrap as "one of the most wonderful plants in the world." It's also one of the fastest as many an unfortunate insect taking a stroll across a leaf has discovered. But what powers this speed? A researcher in Slovakia has been studying the plants with the help of some specialized equipment and a few unlucky insects.

Dead insect in the closed trap of a Venus flytrap.
Credit: iStockphoto/Don Bayley

Charles Darwin described the Venus Flytrap as 'one of the most wonderful plants in the world.' It's also one of the fastest as many an unfortunate insect taking a stroll across a leaf has discovered. But what powers this speed? Dr Andrej Pavlovič of Comenius University, Slovakia, has been studying the plants with the help of some specialised equipment and a few unlucky insects.

In the wild the Venus Flytrap grows in the bogs and savannahs of North and South Carolina. This is not a healthy environment for many plants as it is low in the nitrogen to needed to build proteins. The Venus Flytrap has overcome this problem by developing a taste for meat. It has convex bi-lobed leaves with three trigger hairs on each lobe. When something knocks these hairs twice an electrical signal flips the leaves into concave shapes. If the captured creature struggles to escape it continues to tickle the trigger hairs. This causes the plant's trap to close tighter and release enzymes to digest its prey.

Pavlovič looked at how the Flytraps snapped their leaves around their prey and thought that it might cost the plant energy to catch its food this way. To test his idea, he set up an infrared gas analyzer and a chlorophyll fluorescence imaging camera to watch the plants. He used a wire to make a trap snap and then simulated an insect struggling in the closed trap. Then he watched what happened as the plant caught its victim.

Pavlovič said: "When a trap was triggered, photosynthesis slowed down and then recovered over ten minutes after the traps stopped being stimulated. In addition, the gas analyser showed an increase in respiration from the traps. To power the trap, the Venus Flytraps converted sugars they had photosynthesized back into carbon dioxide and energy. It is like an animal which also increases breathing when it has an increased demand for energy. The measurements showed that the effects are linked not to whether or not the trap is open, but to the stimulation of the trigger hairs. The measurements are connected with electrical signals produced by trigger hair irritation. These signals are similar to the signals which spread through the animal neurons."

The results mean that the plants should not been seen as entirely passive. Pavlovič added: "These results show that the plant is as active as it appears and that it has adapted to trade-off the costs of lost photosynthesis against the benefits of additional nutrients from animal prey which in turn may later stimulate photosynthesis. This agrees with my earlier studies on carnivorous plants and shows why Venus Flytraps live in sunny habitats. The energy used in eating insects means that they need a lot of opportunity for photosynthesis, otherwise they lose more than they gain."

It also suggests an answer to a question posed by Darwin over a century ago. Pavlovič noticed that when the traps closed there were gaps between the 'teeth' at the edge of the trap that a small creature could escape through. He said: "This could be an adaptive trait. Victims with little useful nitrogen can escape, ensuring the plant doesn't waste energy digesting them. The Venus Flytrap is not a merciless killer."

The research is published in the Annals of Botany.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Oxford University Press. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Pavlovic A, Demko V, Hudák J. Trap closure and prey retention in Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) temporarily reduces photosynthesis and stimulates respiration. Annals of Botany, 2010; 105: 37-44 DOI: 10.1093/aob/mcp269

Cite This Page:

Oxford University Press. "No such thing as a free lunch for Venus flytraps." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 August 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/08/100803101922.htm>.
Oxford University Press. (2010, August 3). No such thing as a free lunch for Venus flytraps. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/08/100803101922.htm
Oxford University Press. "No such thing as a free lunch for Venus flytraps." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/08/100803101922.htm (accessed April 24, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Deadly Fungus Killing Bats, Spreading in US

Deadly Fungus Killing Bats, Spreading in US

AP (Apr. 24, 2014) — A disease that has killed more than six million cave-dwelling bats in the United States is on the move and wildlife biologists are worried. White Nose Syndrome, discovered in New York in 2006, has now spread to 25 states. (April 24) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Blood From World's Oldest Woman Suggests Life Limit

Blood From World's Oldest Woman Suggests Life Limit

Newsy (Apr. 24, 2014) — Scientists say for the extremely elderly, their stem cells might reach a state of exhaustion. This could limit one's life span. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Kangaroo Rescued from Swimming Pool

Raw: Kangaroo Rescued from Swimming Pool

AP (Apr. 24, 2014) — A kangaroo was saved from drowning in a backyard suburban swimming pool in Australia's Victoria state on Thursday. Australian broadcaster Channel 7 showed footage of the kangaroo struggling to get out of the pool. (April 24) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Monkeys Are Better At Math Than We Thought, Study Shows

Monkeys Are Better At Math Than We Thought, Study Shows

Newsy (Apr. 23, 2014) — A Harvard University study suggests monkeys can use symbols to perform basic math calculations. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins