Science Reporting

Scientists discover that carnivorous plants also catch salamanders

When we think of carnivorous plants, we think of meals made with insects, at most spiders, which can fall into the clutches of this type of plant. However, new research confirms that these plants can also feed on small vertebrates, specifically salamanders.

A research group of the University of Guelph has analyzed a group of carnivorous plants that grow in the wetlands of Canada and that are characterized by a particular mechanism of capture. Their leaves form a sort of deep cavity that is filled with digestive fluid. Once attracted to the insect or spider, by means of visual baits such as pigments, special pigments or distilling glands of sweet nectar, they make it drown in this liquid thanks to which the prey slowly but surely melts.

In the study, published in Ecology, the researchers describe “an unexpected and fascinating case of plants that eat vertebrates.” Studying various specimens of the species Sarracenia purpurea purpurea located near a small pond in the autumn of 2018, the researchers discovered that almost one in five contained, inside their cavity filled with liquid, young specimens of salamanders.

These were salamanders that had recently come out of the larval state inside the pond and ventured into the outside world by crawling for the first time. Obviously very inexperienced, these small and young salamanders ended up being trapped by the plants. Usually, they died in 3-4 days but according to the researchers, who analyzed the plants at length and for several months, some of the victims had remained inside the liquid for 19 days.

This time is necessary for the digestive enzymes in the plant liquid to do their job by decomposing the body of the prey. According to the researchers, some of these salamanders may have ended up in the trap set by the plants to escape from other predators. In addition, other factors that can contribute to faster death of prey once captured are the heat that is created inside the cavity, hunger and infection by pathogens.