AUG 15, 2021 7:24 AM PDT

The Killer Instinct of a Dainty Flower is Finally Exposed

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

The exotic Venus flytrap is a famous carnivorous plant that's easy to identify. But it seems that another carnivorous plant has been quietly lurking among the regular flora of the Pacific coast for many years, undetected. Researchers described Triantha occidentalis in the scientific literature for the first time in 1879, but now, its special talent for digesting small insects has been revealed.

Credit: An image of Triantha occidentalis by Danilo Lima

Scientists have reported this totally new lineage of carnivorous plants in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, making it the first to be discovered in two decades. Insect-eating, flowering plants are already unusual, but this new one, the North American flowering plant Triantha occidentalis, uses a sticky-trap mechanism that is unique among plants that capture insect prey. These plants typically use leaves to trap insects, but the stemmy sites where insect prey are captured and killed on Triantha sit adjacent to flowers that must also be pollinated by insects.

Triantha's flowering stems are sticky, and they release an enzyme that can digest small insects it traps. The enzyme, phosphatase, is found in all plant carnivores that digest their prey directly. But Triantha is the only one that has sticky-traps next to its flowers. The insects this plants traps are small, while larger pollinators like bees and butterflies are spared by the carnivore, helping to ensure that it can have the help of its insect friends and eat some insects, too.

Fewer than 1,000 species of plants are carnivorous, and they tend to dwell in places without many resources. Carnivorous plants need nutrients to grow and reproduce, and insects help them achieve that goal even when they live in nutrient-poor habitats.

The researchers noted that since Triantha doesn't live anywhere that's difficult to access, it lives near cities, there may be other plant carnivores waiting to be discovered.

"We had no idea it was carnivorous," botanist Sean Graham of the University of British Columbia told NPR. "This was not found in some exotic tropical location, but really right on our doorstep in Vancouver. You could literally walk out from Vancouver to this field site."

Sources: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, NPR

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on over 30 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 70 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
AUG 15, 2021
Genetics & Genomics
Stunning Connection Between Bear DNA & Human Language Groups Is Revealed
AUG 15, 2021
Stunning Connection Between Bear DNA & Human Language Groups Is Revealed
Incredible findings from the wilds of coastal British Columbia have shown how closely linked animals, humans, and the en ...
AUG 19, 2021
Plants & Animals
The Hobbit's feeding biomechanics were similar to humans
AUG 19, 2021
The Hobbit's feeding biomechanics were similar to humans
New research suggests that the feeding biomechanics of Homo floresiensis (aka, the Hobbit) are similar to modern humans.
AUG 31, 2021
Genetics & Genomics
A Method to Detect Genetically Modified Animals in the Environment
AUG 31, 2021
A Method to Detect Genetically Modified Animals in the Environment
Genetically modified mice, fruit flies, and zebrafish are commonly used in research. Scientists have now developed a met ...
SEP 08, 2021
Plants & Animals
Are the skeletons of macaque hybrids distinct?
SEP 08, 2021
Are the skeletons of macaque hybrids distinct?
New research sheds insight into the evolution of the human pelvis by using macaque hybrid models.
SEP 10, 2021
Earth & The Environment
Wildfire Effects on Air Quality
SEP 10, 2021
Wildfire Effects on Air Quality
Wildfires are becoming a common occurrence in the Western US, and wildfires are expected to increase in severity and num ...
OCT 20, 2021
Plants & Animals
Processed Foods Negatively Affect Memory in Aging Brains
OCT 20, 2021
Processed Foods Negatively Affect Memory in Aging Brains
Processed foods—chips, soda, frozen meals, the kinds of foods designed to have a long shelf life and be easy to pr ...
Loading Comments...