We have a young friend in New Jersey; his name is Max
He is very interested in carnivorous plants.
Maybe you didn’t know that some plants are carnivorous (meat eaters) but they are! Perhaps the most famous is the venus fly trap, but the ones that Max is most interested in at the moment are pitcher plants.
Pitcher plants live in the tropical zone that stretches from northern Southeast Asia as far south as northern Australia. They’re from a plant family called Nepenthes.
Here are a few things we’ve learned about pitcher plants since we started watching for them for Max:
- the pitcher part of the pitcher plant is not the flower, but a leaf adaptation
- the rim of the plant is waxy and slick, causing the insects to slide into the belly of the plant
- inside the pitcher is filled with a digestive fluid
- the insects are drawn to the plant by colour, sugar and smell
- while the plant traps and “eats” most insects, some actually live in the plant, mosquito larve and certain small crabs, for instance
- there are over 80 different species, 30 of which are found on Borneo
- the biggest thing ever found dead in a large pitcher plant? A dead rat.
- nepenthes evolved to eat bugs because the soil they grow in is nutrient deficient
- the plants are climbers, and the vines can climb up trees as high as ten meters
- some nepenthes are “ant plants” meaning that they let ants live inside them in a symbiotic relationship (presumably they don’t eat their own ants!)
- some frogs lay their eggs in the fluid inside the pitcher plants
- the world’s largest pitcher plant was recorded to be able to hold 3.5 liters of water, the equivalent of 9.5 soft drink cans!
- the digestive juices in the pitcher work only on dead organisms, which is why live frogs, their eggs and larvae don’t get “eaten.”
- pitchers are “squat” shaped when they grow near the ground, but long and slender when they grow up high, so that they don’t tip over in the wind
- their most frequent prey is ants, followed by spiders, centipedes and scorpions; they will sometimes “eat” a snail or a frog
We were super excited to find lots of pitcher plants at the Rainforest Discovery Center in Sepilok.
We hope you like the pictures, Max!