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14 Captivating Facts About Carnivorous Plants

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Many, many animals eat plants—but carnivorous plants bite back. Read on to find out why these plants eat meat, why a Venus flytrap knows how to count, and why one plant rents itself out as a bat hotel … in exchange for poop.

1. THERE MIGHT BE CARNIVOROUS PLANTS NEAR YOU.

Don’t panic. Unlike Audrey II in Little Shop of Horrors, real meat-eating plants only eat tiny creatures. Most of them snack on insects and other small organisms, and the largest ones can manage, at the most, a rat. They’re found all over the world, on every continent except Antarctica, and as far north as Alaska and Greenland. Some carnivorous plants even live near large urban centers if they can find the right piece of habitat. This means that you may be able to see some in the wild near you: Just contact a local nature center and ask if they have any programs on carnivorous plants.

2. EATING MEAT HELPS THEM LIVE IN TOUGH PLACES.

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Most plants make their own food largely by basking in the sun, which is a pretty sweet deal. So why would they also catch animal prey? Plants can’t survive on sunlight alone: They also slurp up nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, with their roots. But carnivorous species live in places where the soil is nutrient-poor. Their meaty diet helps them grow faster and gives them better reproductive success. In fact, it’s such a clever strategy that …

3. CARNIVOROUS PLANTS HAVE EVOLVED AT LEAST NINE SEPARATE TIMES.

Through the course of evolution, plants have stumbled across the carnivorous lifestyle at least nine different times. They’ve even evolved a whole diversity of trapping methods: Snap traps, pitfall traps, sticky goo, and more. These traps are made of leaves—highly modified, specialized leaves.

4. THEY HAVE PRETTY FLOWERS, TOO.

Meat-eating plants don’t just woo animals for food. They also need to attract insects that’ll spread their pollen. That’s why many of them have colorful flowers. To make sure that the pollinators don’t actually become dinner, the plants often hold their blooms high above the leaves and well away from the traps. 

5. SOME OF THEM HAVE TENTACLES.

Byblis filifolia aka the Rainbow Plant. Image credit: Petr Dlouhý via Wikimedia // CC BY-SA 3.0

Several plants catch insects with sticky tentacles. Some of them keep their tentacles motionless; these include Australia’s rainbow plants, which are named for the way that sunlight glints off their sticky goo. Others actively wrap their tentacles around their prey. These include the sundews, which are also named for the way sunlight glints off their sticky goo.  One sundew, Drosera glanduligera, goes the extra mile. Its tentacles snap when touched, catapulting prey into the sticky center of the leaf. See it in action here.

6. SOME ARE LIVING FLYPAPER.

Common butterwort. Image credit: Björn S. via Wikimedia // CC BY-SA 2.0 

Butterworts have flat, sticky leaves that function like a cross between flypaper and a stomach. When insects land on a butterwort’s leaves, they get stuck in goo that’s excreted by sticky glands. The plant releases digestive enzymes and absorbs those tasty bug nutrients. 

7. SOME HAVE PITFALL TRAPS.

Nepenthes burbidgeae. Image credit: JeremiahsCPs via Wikimedia // CC BY-SA 3.0

Many plants catch their food by setting out pit-shaped traps and eating whatever falls in. It’s a popular technique that has appeared at least six separate times over the course of plant evolution. Why doesn’t the prey just crawl out of the trap? The pot-shaped leaves generally have particular adaptations, such as downward-pointing hairs, that make escape difficult at best. A lot of these plants, like the pitcher plants in the genus Nepenthes, contain pools of water that drown and digest their prey. 

8. BUT THEY AREN’T JUST POOLS OF DEATH.

A whole community of aquatic critters thrives inside the pitcher plant pools. For example, frogs—some incredibly tiny—lay their eggs on the pitchers, and their tadpoles grow up swimming in pitcher plant water. And a rich bacterial community helps the pitcher plant digest its food. But the weirdest plant-animal relationship might be …

9. PITCHER PLANTS GIVE BATS A ROOST—IN EXCHANGE FOR POOP.

Photo by @christianziegler Hardwicke's Woolly Bat (Kerivoula hardwickii hardwickii) is a bat which uses the pitchers of Nepenthes hemsleyana as a day roost. Being protected from rain and predators is important for bats. In this mutualistic relationship, t

When the common woolly bat is looking for a rest, it snuggles up inside a pitcher plant’s pitcher-shaped trap. The bat gets a place to sleep, and its poop gives the pitcher plant much-needed nutrients. This is such a good deal that the plant grows two kinds of pitchers: One for snagging bugs, and one for poop. The first kind, which sprouts closer to the ground, is perfumed, slippery, and full of digestive fluid, which makes it perfect for catching and eating bugs. The other type grows higher up and is more like a cozy hotel room. 

And here’s the most amazing part: Those hotel room pitchers have a special reflector dish shape. When the bat uses its sonar system to explore the forest, the plants stand out like a neon VACANCY sign. 

10. SOME CARNIVOROUS PLANTS HAVE SNAP TRAPS.

The most famous type of carnivorous plant is probably the Venus flytrap. Its trapping method looks pretty simple: A bug walks in and the leaf snaps shut like a set of green jaws. But how does the plant know to clamp down on insects and not just, say, dead leaves that fall from above?

It turns out that the Venus flytrap can count. Its gaping maw is full of little trigger hairs. When an insect touches a hair, a timer is set. A crawling insect will probably touch another hair, at which point the trap is sprung. Once five hairs are triggered, the Venus flytrap starts spewing out digestive liquid.

There’s another, less famous plant that uses a similar method to catch its prey. The waterwheel plant is basically an aquatic, rootless Venus flytrap. It eats tiny swimming critters and closes its traps incredibly quickly, considering that it always has a mouth full of water. 

11. SOME USE SUCTION.

True to their name, the aquatic bladderworts are covered in little bladder-like traps. The outsides of the bladders have trigger hairs. When a swimming critter touches a hair, the trap springs open and sucks them in. These bladders work so quickly that scientists need cutting edge high-speed cameras to capture the action. Above the water and far from the carnage, the plants make beautiful, delicate flowers

12. SOME USE LOBSTER TRAPS.

Lobster traps work because they have a funnel-shaped entrance that opens into a larger chamber. It’s easy for a lobster to crawl in, but hard for it to find the exit. Some carnivorous plants catch meals in the same way. Genlisea species seem to use this method; they have root-like leaves with a complicated spiral structure that usher tiny creatures to their doom. 

13. THEY NEED OUR LOVE.

Many carnivorous plant species are at risk. Threats include habitat loss, pollution, and poaching. Yes, you read that right. Just like rhinos and elephants, plants are at risk from poachers who sell them to collectors.

Venus flytraps, for example, live in just a relatively small region around Wilmington, North Carolina. Poachers dig them up and sell the plants for a small amount of cash. The problem has gotten so out of hand that stealing flytraps is now a felony punishable by over a year in jail.

14. DARWIN LOVED THEM SO, SO MUCH.

Drosera allantostigma. Image credit: DevOhm via Wikimedia // CC BY-SA 3.0

To find a great model of carnivorous plant love, we need look no further than Charles Darwin. The famous scientist studied them, published a book on them, and even defended them in letters. In a note to the botanist Asa Gray, Darwin raved about Drosera, a.k.a. the sundews: “Depend on it, you are unjust on the merits of my beloved Drosera: it is a wonderful plant, or rather a most sagacious animal. I will stick up for Drosera to the day of my death.” And in a letter to the geologist Charles Lyell, he declared, “at this present moment I care more about Drosera than the origin of all the species in the world.”

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25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
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According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

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How Urban Legends Like 'The Licked Hand' Are Born
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If you compare the scary stories you heard as a kid with those of your friends—even those who grew up across the country from you—you’ll probably hear some familiar tales. Maybe you tried to summon Bloody Mary by chanting her name in front of the mirror three times in a dark bathroom. Maybe you learned never to wonder what’s under a woman’s neck ribbon. Maybe you heard the one about the girl who feels her dog lick her hand in the middle of the night, only to wake up to find him hanging dead from the shower nozzle, the words “humans can lick too” written on the wall in the dog’s blood.

These ubiquitous, spooky folk tales exist everywhere, and a lot of them take surprisingly similar forms. How does a single story like the one often called “Humans Can Lick Too” or "The Licked Hand" make its way into every slumber party in America? Thrillist recently investigated the question with a few experts, finding that most of these stories have very deep roots.

In the case of The Licked Hand, its origins go back more than a century. In the 1990s, Snopes found that a similar motif dates back to an Englishman’s diary entry from 1871. In it, the diary keeper, Dearman Birchall, retold a story he heard at a party of a man whose wife woke him up in the middle of the night, urging him to go investigate what sounded like burglars in their home. He told his wife that it was only the dog, reaching out his hand. He felt the dog lick his hand … but in the morning, all his valuables were gone: He had clearly been robbed.

A similar theme shows up in the short story “The Diary of Mr. Poynter,” published in 1919 by M.R. James. In it, a character dozes off in an armchair, and thinks that he is petting his dog. It turns out, it’s some kind of hairy human figure that he flees from. The story seems to have evolved from there into its presently popular form, picking up steam in the 1960s. As with any folk tale, its exact form changes depending on the teller: sometimes the main character is an old lady, other times it’s a young girl.

You’ll probably hear these stories in the context of happening to a “friend of a friend,” making you more likely to believe the tale. It practically happened to someone you know! Kind of! The setting, too, is probably somewhere nearby. It might be in your neighborhood, or down by the local railroad tracks.

Thrillist spoke to Dr. Joseph Stubbersfield, a researcher in the UK who studies urban legends, who says the kind of stories that spread widely contain both social information and emotional resonance. Meaning they contain a message—you never know who’s lurking in your house—and are evocative.

If something is super scary or gross, you want to share it. Stories tend to warn against something: A study of English-language urban legends circulating online found that most warned listeners about the hazards of life (poisonous plants, dangerous animals, dangerous humans) rather than any kind of opportunities. We like to warn each other of the dangers that could be lurking around every corner, which makes sense considering our proven propensity to focus on and learn from negative information. And yes, that means telling each other to watch out for who’s licking our hands in the middle of the night.

Just something to keep in mind as you eagerly await Jezebel’s annual scary story contest.

[h/t Thrillist]

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