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This Carnivorous Plant Eats its Veggies

Dec 22, 2014 09:34 AM EST
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"Remember to eat your veggies, or you won't get desert." That's a common line heard by children everywhere. That's because as omnivores, we humans understand the importance of a balanced diet. Now it appears that "carnivorous" plants may understand this too, mooching on other veggies to supplement their diets.

That's at least according to a study recently published in the journal Annals of Botany, which details how carnivorous bladderworts (Utricularia) actually wind up digesting more algae - tiny and simple plant organisms that are commonly found in water - than animal life.

Aquatic bladderworts catch their prey with highly sophisticated suction traps - valve-like trap doors that are triggered by external stimulation, and then rapidly draw prey in to suffocate and digest it.

Prey largely consists of small aquatic insects, but the plants have even been known to catch newborn tadpoles and mosquito larvae by the tail, drawing them in and digesting them bit-by-bit.

As with terrestrial plants, this animal prey was assumed to be the primary source of nutrition for these plants. Due to the minerals provided by prey organisms, bladderworts are able to live and propagate even in habitats that are extremely poor in nutrients.

However, an Austrian research group led by Marianne Koller-Peroutka and Wolfram Adlassnig at the University of Vienna recently screened the prey objects of more than 2,000 closed bladderwort traps, and what they found was a bit surprising. Overall, only 10 percent of the prey was animals, and a whopping 50 percent of the prey consisted of algae.

This proved especially true in poor-nutrient regions such a peat bogs, where algae was prevalent but animal life, such as insects, may have a harder time surviving.

Researcher had long assumed that this alga was a useless bycatch of the bladderwort's suction system. However, the researcher found that plants that had successfully trapped numerous algae were larger and formed more biomass than those who primarily "ate" meat. However, those who trapped more animal life were able to form more hibernation buds - essential for wintering.

Thus, it was concluded that these "carnivorous plants" actually thrive best in waters that provide a balanced and omnivorous diet.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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