WHY DO CARNIVOROUS PLANTS EAT ANIMALS AND INSECTS
Carnivorous plants - whether you love them or hate them - have become a source of fascination for both young and old alike. With their alien-like appearance - combined with a point blank refusal to accept their place in the natural order of things - carnivorous plants are a slap in the face to anyone who thought that vegetarianism in animals was simply the 'safer' option.
As a group, these specialist plants have evolved a number of different ways to attract, catch and digest their prey, although quite surprisingly this ability has evolved independently across a number of plant species. However, they all have one factor in common and that is they all live in nutrient poor environments.
Typically you will find carnivorous plants growing in wetlands, or at least an almost permanently damp or wet environment. Plant nutrients are by their very nature water soluble otherwise they not be able to travel through the plants vascular system. Unfortunately in a waterlogged root environment these vital nutrients are simply washed away.
The differing mechanisms that these plants employ to catch and eat their prey are all designed to solve this single problem - how do you get nutrients from an environment that is severely lacking in available nutrients, and more specifically that most important macro-nutrients of them all, nitrogen and phosphorus.
Nitrogen is a major building block in the process of manufacture of plant cells and proteins, as well as being a vital component of the chlorophyll molecule. Phosphorus is also extremely important as it is used in the production of nucleic acids (DNA, RNA etc), sugar phosphates and co-enzymes.
Without these elements plants cannot survive and so instead of obtaining their nutrients from the ground, carnivorous plants have managed to diversify and obtain their nutrients by digesting the bodies of animals and insects. As luck would have it, these bodies are rich in a range of nutrients but in particular nitrogen and phosphorus. This therefore gives these plants a considerable advantage in an area where few other species can survive.
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