7 Ways Plants Mess with Insects

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7 Ways Plants Mess with Insects

7 Ways Plants Mess with Insects

Plants have a love/hate relationship with bugs. This can take many forms, with the plants using several techniques and traps to make the most of their encounters.

  1. Bear traps

The Venus Fly Trap is probably the most iconic carnivorous plant on Earth. Its hunting strategy is simple – open up traps, wait for an unsuspecting bug to land, and close on the new lunch. Hypersensitive hairs on the interior of the trap wait for several to be brushed (just one moving does not activate the trap). Sadly for the plant, the traps die after a few uses, but like a hydra, those heads are swiftly replaced with more.

venus fly trap

  1. Water traps

Across the world, bugs are flying down to investigate that alluring odor from the cup-shaped plant below. They land, ready to get a mouthful of sweet, sweet nectar, when suddenly they slip and plummet into the basin of water and digestive juices below. These bugs have fallen prey to the pitcher plant, a carnivorous plant which employs a slightly more active approach to the sit-and-wait method of the venus fly trap by offering nectar or attractive color patterns.

pitcherplant

  1. Sticky traps

The Sundew plant makes the most of its bug trap. To attract insects, it produces a sweet-smelling “dew” on its fronds. Then, when the bugs fly down to investigate and get a drink of that apparently delicious nectar, they find that the “nectar” is, in fact, a sticky digestive enzyme. The victim, now stuck in the glue trap, is broken down by the enzymes into a nutrient “soup” for the plant to absorb.

sundew

  1. Fake Rotting Flesh

Some plants just don’t want to conform to the mainstream of insect attraction. In the case of the “Corpse Flower,” the plant figured that attracting bugs with sweet smells was just not its style. It decided to go the complete opposite direction. As the name implies, the Corpse Flower simulates the smell of decaying flesh to attract flies. The flies land, investigate the “rotting body,” and end up pollinating the flower.

corpseflower

  1. Romance

In terms of insect attraction, orchids are a tad inappropriate. Some species, like the Hammer Orchid, produce blooms and pheromones that look like females to trick insects (in this case, wasps) into trying to mate with the flower. Then, when the confused insect copulates with the false lady wasp, the orchid attaches a pollen sack to the wasp and it flies off to find another “mate.”

Pictured: how we get pretty flowers, apparently

Pictured: how we get pretty flowers, apparently

  1. Ultraviolet landing strips

It is a sad fact that many insects see better than we do. To take advantage of this, many plants have developed ultraviolet “landing strips” to guide pollinating insects to the center of the flower.

 

Calystegia sepium in visible light.

Calystegia sepium in visible light.

Calystegia sepium under UV light. Images from naturfotograf.com.

Calystegia sepium under UV light. Images from naturfotograf.com.

  1. Faking sickness

Not all plants are fans of insects, however. Occasionally, plants need to develop ways to fend off insect attack – and that is where it gets interesting. A plant in Ecuador was found that developed white splotches on its leaves. While white blotches aren’t exactly uncommon on plants as a whole, this plant developed these blotches to make it look like it was infested with mining moths. The point is that when the moths see a leaf that looks already diseased or eaten, they move on, leaving the apparently ill (but actually perfectly healthy) leaf alone.

Actually sick on the left. Just faking it on the right.

Actually sick on the left. Just faking it on the right.

Related topics corpse flower, fake illness, hammer orchid, Insects, pitcher plants, plants, romance, venus fly trap, wasp
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