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Discovery Magazine 11/1/1998

What?! a Meat-Eating Plant?

Venus Flytrap

Scientists often divide animals into two groups: those that eat plants (herbivorous); and those that eat meat (carnivorous).

But have you ever heard of carnivorous plants? Believe it or not, there are such things. For example, people in Asia could tell you about the pitcher plant, which is shaded with bright red color and produces a honey-like juice that attracts insects. The plant itself is composed mainly of a long tube that is extremely slippery. When an insect lands on the rim of the plant and leans over to drink the sweet nectar inside the tube, the insect loses its footing and falls into the "pitcher." At the bottom of the pitcher, a strong liquid drowns the insect and begins to digest it as food for the plant.

The sundew is another carnivorous plant. The leaves of the sundew plant have "hairs" that secrete a sticky substance which attracts insects. But when an insect lands on the leaf, this sticky stuff acts like super-glue, and prevents the insect from flying away. As the insect struggles to free itself, the tiny hair-like projections on the leaf wrap around it and trap it. The fluid then suffocates the insect, which gradually is digested by the plant.

But perhaps the most famous of the meat-eating plants is Venus’ flytrap, which grows to a height of about a foot and is found in coastal regions of North and South Carolina in the United States. Venus’ flytrap has hinged leaves (like two parts of a jaw) that are 3-6 inches long, each of which is loaded with three tiny "hairs" similar to those on the sundew plant. There also are sharp bristles on the rim of each leaf. When an insect lands on one of the leaves, the plant senses the pressure and the two halves snap shut like a trap (it takes less than half a second!). At the same time, the bristles interlock so that the insect cannot escape. Glands on the leaves then secrete a red sap that kills the insect, dissolves it, and allows it to be digested. It takes about 10 days for the entire insect to be digested. After that, the leaves open again and prepare to snare another innocent victim. After a pair of hinged leaves traps and digests 3-4 insects, they, too, then die.

Venus’ flytrap needs adequate sunshine, but generally lives in damp soil that does not have much nitrogen. However, since plants need nitrogen to grow, the flytrap gets its nitrogen from the insects it traps and digests.

Some scientists who believe in evolution suggest that plants like the pitcher plant, the sundew, and Venus’ flytrap became carnivorous because they were trying to adapt to their environments. But think of all the things that would have to have developed at the same time in order for these plants to do what they do. The pitcher plant would have to develop a slick surface and a special liquid to dissolve insects that fell into it. The sundew would have to develop tiny "hairs," as well as its own special "super-glue" to hold and digest insects. Venus’ flytrap would have to develop the same kinds of hairs, plus its hinged leaves, insect-killing sap, stout bristles, and digestion fluids. How could all of this have "just happened" in nature? In Psalm 139:14, the writer said, "I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Your works. And that my soul knows very well." When we study nature, it becomes apparent that it is not just the human body that is "fearfully and wonderfully made," but all the other living things that God made as well. What an amazing God we serve!



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