Science 3 min read

Researchers Discover Meat-Eating Pitcher Plants in Canada

A team of Canadian researchers made a bizarre discovery during a field ecology course in Ontario's Algonquin Park Wetlands - meat-eating pitcher plants.

Pitcher plant with a trapped salamander inside of it. | Image Credit: University of Guelph

Pitcher plant with a trapped salamander inside of it. | Image Credit: University of Guelph

Biologists at the University of Guelph have discovered meat-eating pitcher plants in Canada.

The researchers noted that the pitcher plants at the Algonquin Park Wetlands in Ontario consume not just insects, but young salamanders too. In a publication in the journal Ecology, they explained how the plants have been eating vertebrates for nutrients.

Pitcher plants grow in the wetlands across Canada. Unlike regular plants, Pitchers are known to eat creatures that fall into their bell-shaped leaves.

However, the plants appeared to have restricted their diets to insects and spiders, until now.

During a U of G field ecology course in the Algonquin Park Wetlands, then undergraduate student Teskey Baldwin noticed something unusual. He found a salamander trapped inside a pitcher plant.

The unexpected discovery piqued his curiosity, and together with a team of researchers, Baldwin monitored more pitcher plants in the fall of 2018.

While focusing on a single pond in the park, the team noted that almost one in five plants contained the young amphibians. Also, several pitcher plants had captured more than one salamander.

How did the animals become plant snack, you ask?

How Salamanders Fall Prey to the Meat-Eating Pitcher Plants

According to co-author Alex Smith, the amphibians may have fallen into the plant while pursuing an insect prey. Others probably entered the plant to seek protection against predators.

Although some of the trapped salamanders survived for up to 19 days in the plant, most of them died within three days.

The plant’s specialized leaves contain digestive enzymes and other organisms, which break down the prey. Aside from this, other factors could contribute to the salamander’s demise, said Smith.

Examples include heat, infection by pathogens, and starvation.

Carnivorous plants grow in nutrient-poor environments around the world. To make-up for their lack of nutrients, especially nitrogen, the plants often have to catch and consume the surrounding insects

Aside from the pitcher plant, other examples include the Sundews and Venus Flytrap.

About ten years ago, researchers discovered a meat-eating pitcher plant in Asia, which consumes small birds and mice alongside insects. However, the biologist has found no evidence of such in North America, until now.

Smith believes that the Algonquin Park discovery raises some vital questions for biologists.

For example, are the plants important “predators” of the amphibians? Are salamanders a vital prey source for pitcher plants?

The researcher hopes that the findings may prompt park officials to leave a warning in their interpretive pamphlet. According to Smith, the pamphlet addressing the general public could say:

“Stay on the boardwalk and watch your children. Here be plants that eat vertebrates.”

Read More: New Salamander Study Could Help Humans Regenerate Body Parts

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Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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