Janice Stanger, PhD

Janice Stanger, PhD

Posted July 19, 2014

Published in Health

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Carnivorous Plants Can Tell You What to Eat

Read More: carnivorous plants, protein

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Why Do Some Plants Consume Insects?

Here's a situation I've run into many times. Me giving a presentation: "Plants are the base of the food chain on planet earth. Do plants eat animals, or do animals eat plants?"

Someone in audience: "What about the plants that eat insects?"

Okay, let's figure out this question. What about these carnivorous plants? Do they upset the foundation of the food chaincarnivorous plant cartoon smaller.jpg idea? And what lesson do they hold on whether you should eat meat?


Plants need both energy and nutrients to survive and grow. All plants, carnivorous or not, get their energy from the sun. Using the process of photosynthesis in leaves, they convert sunlight into energy that is stored in chemical bonds. This energy is used both by plants for their own processes and by animals (which cannot directly harvest sunlight for energy and must rely on plants, either directly or indirectly).

Nutrients needed to build plant cells are mainly absorbed from soil through the plant's root system. This is where carnivorous plants are different. They live in extremely nutrient-poor soil (often in swamps and bogs), and gain an advantage by supplementing their nutrient supply by catching and digesting insects, and sometimes even larger prey - such as small frogs or rats. Nitrogen and phosphorus, both essential for plant growth, are the main nutrients that carnivorous plants seek from their prey.

Meat-eating plants always "hunt" with their leaves, which have evolved in several different ways to trap and digest insects and other animals. For example, pitcher plants have leaves folded into deep, slippery pools. Prey fall in, then can't get out. In contrast, the Venus flytrap uses hinged leaves that snap tightly shut when an insect crawls on them to capture their meaty meals.

Scientists have discovered about 600 species of carnivorous plants. Yet there are likely 300,000 to 400,000 total species of plants on earth. Put another way, this means 99.85% of all plants on earth are not carnivorous. Why is this true, when it would appear at first glance that catching prey is a smart way to get a big nitrogen boost, and hence a survival advantage?

Click here to learn more about the secrets of carnivorous plants, and what they tell you about your own optimal diet


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