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The Hunting Strategies of Carnivorous Plants

Not the blood-thirsty Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors "“ we're talking about the very real plants that feast on insects and invertebrates. Carnivorous plants are usually found in environments with low-nutrient soil, like bogs and swamps, where they thrive on the sunshine and warm temperatures. Contrary to popular belief, carnivorous plants don't derive their energy from their prey, merely nutrients. Especially nitrogen.

The really cool thing about carnivorous plants (aside from the fact that they hunt and devour prey) is the variety of hunting mechanisms they employ. Some of these traps are more complicated than a spy-movie death apparatus. Here are some of the amazing techniques carnivorous plants use to get their fill. [Image courtesy of Playbill.com.]

Pitcher and Pitfall Plants

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Have you have ever had the misfortune of finding an insect flailing around in a glass of your sugary beverage of choice? That's the basic mechanism employed by a pitcher plant. They entice prey into their rolled leaf cavities with the lure of bright pigments and nectar at the bottom of a deep, inescapable pit. The insects are intoxicated by (and then drown in) this liquid, which contains bacteria and enzymes that will eventually dissolve their carcasses. The inner tubes utilize a slippery, hairy or grooved surface to make sure even sober insects can't escape. Forget about rainwater filling the cavity and diluting the digestive juices; most pitcher plants use some sort of umbrella-like contraption to keep water out, usually a flared leaf called an operculum. [Image courtesy of PitcherPlant.org.]

Snap Traps

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In this amazing trap, the convex leaves are covered in triggers that slam shut and become concave when they sense an insect has arrived. Once shut, the lobes of the leaves are stimulated by the struggling insect and grow together to form a stomach. The glands then secrete an enzyme that digests the insect in about ten days. The ever-famous Venus Flytrap is the best example of this vicious hunting style, and there are very few other species that use this technique.

The undirected movement of the leaves in response to touch snapping is a process called thigmonasty (which sounds like a great DJ moniker to me). Just how fast is the process? Well, the Venus Flytrap can close its traps within 100 milliseconds. After digestion, the leaves re-open and can capture another victim, though it's rare for a single trap to catch more than three insects in its lifetime. Each plant has multiple traps, so it never goes hungry. [Image courtesy of MooseysCountryGarden.com.]

Here's a YouTube demonstration:

Bladder and Suction Traps

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I don't particularly like the words bladder or suction, especially when paired with the word trap, but this trap type is incredible. These plants live in the water and use lots of tiny bladders to ensnare dinner. Basically, bladder traps pump ions out from their interiors and use osmosis to create a partial vacuum. If a creature triggers the trap, it is immediately sucked in, along with a bunch of extra water. The plant immediately begins to filter out the water and digest the prey, and it can hunt for more prey as it digests its current catch.

These complicated traps are exclusive to bladderwort plants, which have at least 215 species. Unlike other carnivorous plants, which exclusively eat insects, bladderworts trap water fleas, nematodes, mosquito larvae, small tadpoles and other things you don't want in your swimming water. Despite their gross-looking traps, bladderworts have beautiful flowers that are similar to orchids and snapdragons, only smaller. [Image courtesy of Carnivorous Plants Online.]

Flypaper Traps

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Just as the name indicates, these plants generate super-sticky glue called mucilage to trap insects. Plants cover their attractive leaves with mucilage, which resemble droplets of fresh dew or rain, and then wait for an insect to land, and fall right into their trap.

Sundew plants are a common but fascinating example of these types of plants. Sure, the name sounds warm and pleasant, but it actually refers to the glistening drops of mucilage at the tip of each tentacle that resemble drops of morning dew. Tentacles and mucilage, gross. Once an insect adheres to the plant, the tentacles very slowly move to wrap around and eventually digest the prey.

The butterwort group of carnivorous plants uses broader leaves rather than tentacles to attract prey. The huge, brightly colored leaves are completely covered in mucilage. Once an insect lands on a leaf, the plant creates more mucilage, causing the struggling insect to become encased in the sticky stuff. Other glands on the leaf secrete digestive juices, and the nutrients are absorbed by the plant leaves. [Image courtesy of Wikipedia.]

Lobster-pot Traps

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Think of these plants as the Roach Motels of carnivorous plants: insects check in, but they don't check out. The traps are easy and intriguing to enter, but very difficult to escape due to inward-pointing bristles and spiraling parts. The genlisea group of plants uses traps that have all their carnivorous parts beneath the soil. The trap is basically a pair of thin tubes joined in an inverted 'V' shape, with spiral grooves down their lengths that allow the entrance of soil-dwelling invertebrates. The grooves are lined with inward-pointing hairs that prevent the prey from escaping and instead force them into the apex of the 'V,' where they are slowly digested. [Image courtesy of CarnivorousPlants.org.]

Caroline Donnelly is an occasional contributor to mentalfloss.com. Her last story looked at 7 Famous Phrases Famous People Own.

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15 Heartwarming Facts About Mister Rogers
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Though Mister Rogers' Neighborhood premiered 50 years ago, Fred Rogers remains an icon of kindness for the ages. An innovator of children’s television, his salt-of-the-earth demeanor and genuinely gentle nature taught a generation of kids the value of kindness. In celebration of the groundbreaking children's series' 50th anniversary, here are 15 things you might not have known about everyone’s favorite “neighbor.”

1. HE WAS BULLIED AS A CHILD.

According to Benjamin Wagner, who directed the 2010 documentary Mister Rogers & Me—and was, in fact, Rogers’s neighbor on Nantucket—Rogers was overweight and shy as a child, and often taunted by his classmates when he walked home from school. “I used to cry to myself when I was alone,” Rogers said. “And I would cry through my fingers and make up songs on the piano.” It was this experience that led Rogers to want to look below the surface of everyone he met to what he called the “essential invisible” within them.

2. HE WAS AN ORDAINED MINISTER.

Rogers was an ordained minister and, as such, a man of tremendous faith who preached tolerance wherever he went. When Amy Melder, a six-year-old Christian viewer, sent Rogers a drawing she made for him with a letter that promised “he was going to heaven,” Rogers wrote back to his young fan:

“You told me that you have accepted Jesus as your Savior. It means a lot to me to know that. And, I appreciated the scripture verse that you sent. I am an ordained Presbyterian minister, and I want you to know that Jesus is important to me, too. I hope that God’s love and peace come through my work on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

3. HE RESPONDED TO ALL HIS FAN MAIL.

Responding to fan mail was part of Rogers’s very regimented daily routine, which began at 5 a.m. with a prayer and included time for studying, writing, making phone calls, swimming, weighing himself, and responding to every fan who had taken the time to reach out to him.

“He respected the kids who wrote [those letters],” Heather Arnet, an assistant on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2005. “He never thought about throwing out a drawing or letter. They were sacred."

According to Arnet, the fan mail he received wasn’t just a bunch of young kids gushing to their idol. Kids would tell Rogers about a pet or family member who died, or other issues with which they were grappling. “No child ever received a form letter from Mister Rogers," Arnet said, noting that he received between 50 and 100 letters per day.

4. ANIMALS LOVED HIM AS MUCH AS PEOPLE DID.

It wasn’t just kids and their parents who loved Mister Rogers. Koko, the Stanford-educated gorilla who understands 2000 English words and can also converse in American Sign Language, was an avid Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood watcher, too. When Rogers visited her, she immediately gave him a hug—and took his shoes off.

5. HE WAS AN ACCOMPLISHED MUSICIAN.

Though Rogers began his education in the Ivy League, at Dartmouth, he transferred to Rollins College following his freshman year in order to pursue a degree in music (he graduated Magna cum laude). In addition to being a talented piano player, he was also a wonderful songwriter and wrote all the songs for Mister Rogers' Neighborhood—plus hundreds more.

6. HIS INTEREST IN TELEVISION WAS BORN OUT OF A DISDAIN FOR THE MEDIUM.

Rogers’s decision to enter into the television world wasn’t out of a passion for the medium—far from it. "When I first saw children's television, I thought it was perfectly horrible," Rogers told Pittsburgh Magazine. "And I thought there was some way of using this fabulous medium to be of nurture to those who would watch and listen."

7. KIDS WHO WATCHED MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD RETAINED MORE THAN THOSE WHO WATCHED SESAME STREET.

A Yale study pitted fans of Sesame Street against Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood watchers and found that kids who watched Mister Rogers tended to remember more of the story lines, and had a much higher “tolerance of delay,” meaning they were more patient.

8. ROGERS’S MOM KNIT ALL OF HIS SWEATERS.

If watching an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood gives you sweater envy, we’ve got bad news: You’d never be able to find his sweaters in a store. All of those comfy-looking cardigans were knitted by Fred’s mom, Nancy. In an interview with the Archive of American Television, Rogers explained how his mother would knit sweaters for all of her loved ones every year as Christmas gifts. “And so until she died, those zippered sweaters I wear on the Neighborhood were all made by my mother,” he explained.

9. HE WAS COLORBLIND.

Those brightly colored sweaters were a trademark of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, but the colorblind host might not have always noticed. In a 2003 article, just a few days after his passing, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote that:

Among the forgotten details about Fred Rogers is that he was so colorblind he could not distinguish between tomato soup and pea soup.

He liked both, but at lunch one day 50 years ago, he asked his television partner Josie Carey to taste it for him and tell him which it was.

Why did he need her to do this, Carey asked him. Rogers liked both, so why not just dip in?

"If it's tomato soup, I'll put sugar in it," he told her.

10. HE WORE SNEAKERS AS A PRODUCTION CONSIDERATION.

According to Wagner, Rogers’s decision to change into sneakers for each episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was about production, not comfort. “His trademark sneakers were born when he found them to be quieter than his dress shoes as he moved about the set,” wrote Wagner.

11. MICHAEL KEATON GOT HIS START ON THE SHOW.

Oscar-nominated actor Michael Keaton's first job was as a stagehand on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, manning Picture, Picture, and appearing as Purple Panda.

12. ROGERS GAVE GEORGE ROMERO HIS FIRST PAYING GIG, TOO.

It's hard to imagine a gentle, soft-spoken, children's education advocate like Rogers sitting down to enjoy a gory, violent zombie movie like Dawn of the Dead, but it actually aligns perfectly with Rogers's brand of thoughtfulness. He checked out the horror flick to show his support for then-up-and-coming filmmaker George Romero, whose first paying job was with everyone's favorite neighbor.

“Fred was the first guy who trusted me enough to hire me to actually shoot film,” Romero said. As a young man just out of college, Romero honed his filmmaking skills making a series of short segments for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, creating a dozen or so titles such as “How Lightbulbs Are Made” and “Mr. Rogers Gets a Tonsillectomy.” The zombie king, who passed away in 2017, considered the latter his first big production, shot in a working hospital: “I still joke that 'Mr. Rogers Gets a Tonsillectomy' is the scariest film I’ve ever made. What I really mean is that I was scared sh*tless while I was trying to pull it off.”

13. ROGERS HELPED SAVE PUBLIC TELEVISION.

In 1969, Rogers—who was relatively unknown at the time—went before the Senate to plead for a $20 million grant for public broadcasting, which had been proposed by President Johnson but was in danger of being sliced in half by Richard Nixon. His passionate plea about how television had the potential to turn kids into productive citizens worked; instead of cutting the budget, funding for public TV increased from $9 million to $22 million.

14. HE ALSO SAVED THE VCR.

Years later, Rogers also managed to convince the Supreme Court that using VCRs to record TV shows at home shouldn’t be considered a form of copyright infringement (which was the argument of some in this contentious debate). Rogers argued that recording a program like his allowed working parents to sit down with their children and watch shows as a family. Again, he was convincing.

15. ONE OF HIS SWEATERS WAS DONATED TO THE SMITHSONIAN.

In 1984, Rogers donated one of his iconic sweaters to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

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5 Things You Might Not Know About Ansel Adams

You probably know Ansel Adams—who was born on February 20, 1902—as the man who helped promote the National Park Service through his magnificent photographs. But there was a lot more to the shutterbug than his iconic, black-and-white vistas. Here are five lesser-known facts about the celebrated photographer.

1. AN EARTHQUAKE LED TO HIS DISTINCTIVE NOSE.

Adams was a four-year-old tot when the 1906 San Francisco earthquake struck his hometown. Although the boy managed to escape injury during the quake itself, an aftershock threw him face-first into a garden wall, breaking his nose. According to a 1979 interview with TIME, Adams said that doctors told his parents that it would be best to fix the nose when the boy matured. He joked, "But of course I never did mature, so I still have the nose." The nose became Adams' most striking physical feature. His buddy Cedric Wright liked to refer to Adams' honker as his "earthquake nose.

2. HE ALMOST BECAME A PIANIST.

Adams was an energetic, inattentive student, and that trait coupled with a possible case of dyslexia earned him the heave-ho from private schools. It was clear, however, that he was a sharp boy—when motivated.

When Adams was just 12 years old, he taught himself to play the piano and read music, and he quickly showed a great aptitude for it. For nearly a dozen years, Adams focused intensely on his piano training. He was still playful—he would end performances by jumping up and sitting on his piano—but he took his musical education seriously. Adams ultimately devoted over a decade to his study, but he eventually came to the realization that his hands simply weren't big enough for him to become a professional concert pianist. He decided to leave the keys for the camera after meeting photographer Paul Strand, much to his family's dismay.

3. HE HELPED CREATE A NATIONAL PARK.

If you've ever enjoyed Kings Canyon National Park in California, tip your cap to Adams. In the 1930s Adams took a series of photographs that eventually became the book Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail. When Adams sent a copy to Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, the cabinet member showed it to Franklin Roosevelt. The photographs so delighted FDR that he wouldn't give the book back to Ickes. Adams sent Ickes a replacement copy, and FDR kept his with him in the White House.

After a few years, Ickes, Adams, and the Sierra Club successfully convinced Roosevelt to make Kings Canyon a national park in 1940. Roosevelt's designation specifically provided that the park be left totally undeveloped and roadless, so the only way FDR himself would ever experience it was through Adams' lenses.

4. HE WELCOMED COMMERCIAL ASSIGNMENTS.

While many of his contemporary fine art photographers shunned commercial assignments as crass or materialistic, Adams went out of his way to find paying gigs. If a company needed a camera for hire, Adams would generally show up, and as a result, he had some unlikely clients. According to The Ansel Adams Gallery, he snapped shots for everyone from IBM to AT&T to women's colleges to a dried fruit company. All of this commercial print work dismayed Adams's mentor Alfred Stieglitz and even worried Adams when he couldn't find time to work on his own projects. It did, however, keep the lights on.

5. HE AND GEORGIA O'KEEFFE WERE FRIENDS.

Adams and legendary painter O'Keeffe were pals and occasional traveling buddies who found common ground despite their very different artistic approaches. They met through their mutual friend/mentor Stieglitz—who eventually became O'Keeffe's husband—and became friends who traveled throughout the Southwest together during the 1930s. O'Keeffe would paint while Adams took photographs.

These journeys together led to some of the artists' best-known work, like Adams' portrait of O'Keeffe and a wrangler named Orville Cox, and while both artists revered nature and the American Southwest, Adams considered O'Keeffe the master when it came to capturing the area. 

“The Southwest is O’Keeffe’s land,” he wrote. “No one else has extracted from it such a style and color, or has revealed the essential forms so beautifully as she has in her paintings.”

The two remained close throughout their lives. Adams would visit O'Keeffe's ranch, and the two wrote to each other until Adams' death in 1984.

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