Is it possible for something to think without any brain? Okay let me rephrase my question. Are plants capable of thinking? No? Think again! It seems that carnivorous pitcher plants has been doing just that for who knows how long.
How do you explain their ability to change their bug catching approach in order to survive? Every living being knows what survival of the fittest is, even plants do. This may be the only reason why pitcher plants are able to find an alternative approach in catching bugs.
The discovery about pitcher plant’s ability to vary their bug catching technique is published in the Royal Society B.
The unsolved mystery about how the exotic pitcher plant snare bugs by using its slippery pitfall traps has been solved in this research as well.
“The plant’s key trapping surface is extremely slippery when wet, but not when dry,” explained project leader Ulrike Bauer of Bristol University’s School of Biological Sciences. “For up to eight hours during dry days, these traps are ‘switched off’ and do not capture any of their insect visitors. At first sight, this is puzzling because natural selection should favor traps that catch as many insects as possible.”
The study began when Bauer and his companions went to Borneo and checked out the wild carnivorous pitcher plants there. What they found out was plants catch large group of ants intermittently from the same species. What the researchers did next was they kept the surfaces of the traps wet continuously. The result was plants stopped catching large groups of ants
“Ants are social insects,” Bauer said, explaining that individual ‘scout’ ants search their surroundings for profitable food sources. When they find a pitcher trap full of sweet nectar, they go back to the colony and recruit many more ant workers.
“However,” Bauer added, “a trap that is super-slippery all the time will capture most of these scout ants and cut off its own prey supply.”
The plant’s ability to trap the ants ceased when their traps was kept wet always.
To continue their ant catching ways the plants developed another method and discarded their old technique.
“By ‘switching off’ their traps for part of the day, pitcher plants ensure that scout ants can return safely to the colony and recruit nest-mates to the trap,” Bauer said. “Later, when the pitcher becomes wet, these followers get caught in one sweep.”
“What looks like a disadvantage at first sight, turns out to be a clever strategy to exploit the recruitment behavior of social insects.”