North Carolina’s iconic bug-eating plant – the Venus flytrap – knows which bugs not to eat in order to be pollinated, according to a Feb. 8 story in National Geographic.
Researchers have for the first time discovered which insects pollinate the rare plants “and discovered that the flytraps don’t dine on these pollinator species,” according to the story, which cites a report issued by NC State.
“Everybody’s heard of Venus flytraps, but nobody knew what pollinated them – so we decided to find out,” said a statement from Clyde Sorenson, co-author of a paper describing the research.
The rare plants are botanical curiosity that are found only in boggy habitats near Wilmington, and they are considered an at-risk species, threatened by encroaching development. They are also illegally poached and sold as pets in larger markets.
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So which bugs are spared the plant’s digestive system? Researcher Elsa Youngsteadt opened more than 200 flytrap stomachs to find the insect remnants dissolving inside.
Three bugs never showed up, despite frequently visiting Venus flytraps: A green sweat bee, a checkered beetle and the notch-tipped flower longhorn beetle.
How the plants are smart enough to know what not to eat remains a mystery, but research is ongoing.
One potential reason is that the three pollinator species can fly, said Youngsteadt, who was lead author of a project paper.
“The pollinator species may simply be staying above the danger zone as they go from flower to flower, making them less likely to be eaten,” she said in a statement.
But other factors may also come into play.
“We know that the snap traps are different colors than the flowers, and may possibly lure different species,” Sorenson said in a statement. “We don’t yet know if they release different scents or other chemical signals that may also differentiate which portions of the plant are attractive to pollinators versus prey. That’s one of the questions we plan to address.”
The researchers visited a 100-mile-radius plot near Wilmington where flytraps are found. They used nets to collect bugs on and in the flowers, and traps to catch spiders.
The paper, “Venus Flytrap Rarely Traps Its Pollinators,” is published in the journal “American Naturalist.”