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Venus Fly Traps 'Count' To Catch and Eat Prey

Jan 22, 2016 05:43 PM EST
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Watch carnivorous Australian pitcher plant consume its prey

Venus flytraps can count, according to a team of German researchers from the University of Würzburg. It appears these mathematical skills help the carnivorous plants conserve energy and avoid false alarms.

"The carnivorous plant Dionaea muscipula, also known as Venus flytrap, can count how often it has been touched by an insect visiting its capture organ in order to trap and consume the animal prey," Rainer Hedrich, one of the study researchers from the University of Würzburg in Germany, said in a news release.

Venus flytraps produce a fruity scent that lures insects to their doom. The carnivorous plants are able to sense a juicy bug has arrived, thanks to sensitive trigger hairs on the inner surfaces of their traps.

In the latest study, Hendrich and his team of researchers fooled the plants into thinking an insect had landed on it by applying increasing numbers of artificial "touches" to its special trap hairs. With a single touch, researchers found the plant prepared to capture its prey, but waited patiently in case it turned out to be a false alarm.

A second touch, however, convinced the plant - it quickly snapped its trap around its prey. After five triggers, used to simulate an insect trying to escape, the plant was further excited and released digestive enzymes and molecules to take in nutrients.

"The number of action potentials informs [the plant] about the size and nutrient content of the struggling prey," Hedrich added. "This allows the Venus flytrap to balance the cost and benefit of hunting."

Carnivorous plants such as the Venus flytrap rely on insect meals to grow in nutrient-poor soils. Interestingly, researchers found the plants produce a type of transporter that allows them to take up sodium. While researchers are unsure exactly why the plants are interested in salt, they suspect it may have something to do with how Venus flytraps balance water inside their cell walls.

Their study was recently published in the journal Current Biology

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