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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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15 Things You Might Not Know About Chewbacca
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Even if you don't know the name Peter Mayhew, you surely know about Chewbacca—the seven-foot tall Wookiee he has played onscreen for over three decades. In honor of Mayhew’s birthday, here are 15 things you might not know about Han Solo's BFF.

1. HE WAS INSPIRED BY GEORGE LUCAS'S DOG.

The character of Chewbacca was inspired by George Lucas’s big, hairy Alaskan malamute, Indiana. According to Lucas, the dog would always sit in the passenger seat of his car like a copilot, and people would confuse the dog for an actual person. And in case you're wondering: yes, that same dog was also the inspiration behind the name of one of Lucas’s other creations, Indiana Jones.

2. HIS NAME IS OF RUSSIAN ORIGIN.

The name “Chewbacca” was derived from the Russian word Sobaka (собака), meaning “dog.” The term “Wookiee” came from voice actor Terry McGovern; when he was doing voiceover tracks for Lucas's directorial debut, THX 1138, McGovern randomly improvised the line, “I think I just ran over a Wookiee” during one of the sessions.

3. HE'S REALLY, REALLY OLD.

In Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Chewbacca is 200 years old.

4. PETER MAYHEW'S HEIGHT HELPED HIM LAND THE ROLE.

Peter Mayhew
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Mayhew was chosen to play everyone’s favorite Wookiee primarily because of his tremendous height: He's 7 feet 3 inches tall.

5. HIS SUIT IS MADE FROM A MIX OF ANIMAL HAIRS, AND EVENTUALLY INCLUDED A COOLING SYSTEM.

For the original trilogy (and the infamous holiday special), the Chewbacca costume was made with a combination of real yak and rabbit hair knitted into a base of mohair. A slightly altered original Chewie costume was used in 1999's The Phantom Menace for the Wookiee senator character Yarua, and a new costume used during Episode III included a specially made water-cooling system so that Mayhew could wear the suit for long periods of time and not be overheated.

6. ONE OF STANLEY KUBRICK'S CLOSEST CREATORS DESIGNED THE COSTUME.

Chewbacca's costume
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To create the original costume for Chewbacca, Lucas hired legendary makeup supervisor Stuart Freeborn, who was recruited because of his work on the apes in the “Dawn of Man” sequence in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. (Freeborn had also previously worked with Kubrick on Dr. Strangelove to effectively disguise Peter Sellers in each of his three roles in that film.) Freeborn would go on to supervise the creation of Yoda in The Empire Strike Back and Jabba the Hutt and the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi.

Lucas originally wanted Freeborn’s costume for Chewie to be a combination of a monkey, a dog, and a cat. According to Freeborn, the biggest problem during production with the costume was with Mayhew’s eyes. The actor’s body heat in the mask caused his face to detach from the costume's eyes and made them look separate from the mask.

7. FINDING CHEWBACCA'S VOICE WAS BEN BURTT'S FIRST ASSIGNMENT.

The first sound effect that director George Lucas hired now-legendary sound designer Ben Burtt for on Star Wars was Chewbacca’s voice (this was all the way back during the script stage). During the year of preliminary sound recording, Burtt principally used the vocalization of a black bear named Tarik from Happy Hollow Zoo in San Jose, California for Chewbacca. He would eventually synchronize those sounds with further walrus, lion, and badger vocalizations for the complete voice. The name of the language Chewbacca speaks came to be known in the Star Wars universe as “Shyriiwook.”

8. ROGER EBERT WAS NOT A FAN.

Roger Ebert was not a fan of the big guy. In his 1997 review of the Special Edition of The Empire Strikes Back, Ebert basically called Chewbacca the worst character in the series. “This character was thrown into the first film as window dressing, was never thought through, and as a result has been saddled with one facial expression and one mournful yelp," the famed critic wrote. "Much more could have been done. How can you be a space pilot and not be able to communicate in any meaningful way? Does Han Solo really understand Chewie's monotonous noises? Do they have long chats sometimes? Never mind.”

9. HE WAS ORIGINALLY MUCH MORE SCANTILY CLAD.

In the summary for Lucas’s second draft (dated January 28, 1975, when the film was called “Adventures of the Starkiller, Episode I: The Star Wars”), Chewbacca is described as “an eight-foot tall, savage-looking creature resembling a huge gray bushbaby-monkey with fierce ‘baboon’-like fangs. His large yellow eyes dominate a fur-covered face … [and] over his matted, furry body he wears two chrome bandoliers, a flak jacket painted in a bizarre camouflage pattern, brown cloth shorts, and little else.”

10. HIS DESIGN WAS BASED ON RALPH MCQUARRIE'S CONCEPT ART.

Chewbacca’s character design was based on concept art drawn by Ralph McQuarrie. Lucas had originally given McQuarrie a photo of a lemur for inspiration, and McQuarrie proceeded to draw the character as a female—but Chewbacca was soon changed to a male. McQuarrie based his furry design on an illustration by artist John Schoenherr, which was commissioned for Game of Thrones scribe George R.R. Martin’s short story “And Seven Times Never Kill a Man.” Sharp-eyed Chewbacca fans will recognize that Schoenherr’s drawing even includes what resembles the Wookiee’s signature weapon, the Bowcaster.

11. HE WON A LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD.

Fans were angry for decades that Chewie didn’t receive a medal of valor like Luke and Han did at the end of A New Hope, so MTV gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 1997 MTV Movie Awards. The medal was given to Mayhew—decked out in full costume—by Princess Leia herself, actress Carrie Fisher. His acceptance speech, made entirely in Wookiee grunts, lasted 16 seconds. When asked why Chewbacca didn’t receive a medal at the end of the first film, Lucas explained, “Medals really don’t mean much to Wookiees. They don’t really put too much credence in them. They have different kinds of ceremonies.”

12. HE HAS A FAMILY BACK HOME.

According to the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special, Chewbacca had a wife named Mallatobuck, a son named Lumpawaroo (a.k.a. “Lumpy”), and a father named Attichitcuk (aka “Itchy”). In the special, Chewie and Han visit the Wookiee home planet of Kashyyyk to celebrate “Life Day,” a celebration of the Wookiee home planet’s diverse ecosystem. The special featured appearances and musical numbers by Jefferson Starship, Diahann Carroll, Art Carney, Harvey Korman, and Bea Arthur, and marked the first appearance of Boba Fett. Lucas hated the special so much that he limited its availability following its original airdate on November 17, 1978.

13. MAYHEW'S BIG FEET ARE WHAT KICKSTARTED HIS CAREER.

Mayhew’s path to playing Chewbacca began with a string of lucky breaks—and his big feet. A local London reporter was doing a story on people with big feet and happened to profile Mayhew. A movie producer saw the article and cast him—in an uncredited role—as Minoton the minotaur in the film Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. One of the makeup men on Sinbad was also working on the Wookiee costume with Stuart Freeborn for Star Wars and suggested to the producers that they screen test Mayhew. The rest is Wookiee history.

14. MAYHEW KEPT HIS DAY JOB WHILE SHOOTING STAR WARS.

Peter Mayhew
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During the shooting of Star Wars, Mayhew kept working his day job as a deputy head porter in a London hospital. Though he was let go because of his sudden varying shooting schedule at Elstree Studios, he was eventually hired back after production wrapped.

15. DARTH VADER COULD HAVE BEEN CHEWBACCA.

Darth Vader
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David Prowse, the 6’5” actor who ended up portraying Darth Vader—in costume only—originally turned down the role of Chewbacca.  When given the choice between portraying the two characters, Prowse said, “I turned down the role of Chewbacca at once. I know that people remember villains longer than heroes. At the time I didn’t know I’d be wearing a mask, and throughout production I thought Vader’s voice would be mine.”

Additional Sources: Star Wars DVD special features
The Making of Star Wars: The definitive Story Behind the Original Film, J.W. Rinzler

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