Plants are experts at making food from scratch, but even with plenty of water, sunlight and carbon dioxide, photosynthesis has its limits. In bogs and other habitats where soil nutrients are sparse, a few hundred plant species have evolved an incredible strategy for survival: eating animals.
Seeing a carnivorous plant devour a beetle or spider might be eerie at any speed. But time-lapse video — which already lets us glimpse the slow-motion lives of plants in general — sheds much more light on these beautiful, bloodthirsty herbs. High-definition footage of a Venus flytrap unfurling and then "hunting" can make it seem sentient and even cute, like an unusually calm kitten with leaves for teeth.
The new time-lapse video "Carnivora Gardinum," filmed over 107 days by photographer Chris Field, offers an affectionate portrait of several carnivorous plant species in action. But it's not just a grisly montage of unlucky insects and arachnids — we also get to see the plants growing, like a wildlife documentary that shows lions cuddling their cubs one minute and mauling a gazelle the next.
Many carnivorous plants do share habitats like this; scientists have found as many as 13 species living in a single bog. It's worth noting, however, this video wasn't filmed in the wild, which would have been a challenge — especially since many carnivorous plants are endangered due to overcollection and habitat loss. Field instead built a mini-habitat in his basement, letting him control lighting and other conditions much like photographer Daniel Stoupin did in a recent time-lapse video of corals and sponges.
Despite the oddity and rarity of plants eating animals, the adaptation has evolved many times in history. Pitfall traps evolved in four different plant groups, according to the Botanical Society of America, while sticky traps arose in at least three. These are examples of convergent evolution, similar to how birds and bats independently evolved the ability to fly. Some carnivorous tricks evolved just once, though, like the snap traps of Venus flytraps and waterwheels or the lobster-pot traps of corkscrew plants.
Field captures several of these tactics in his film, a Vimeo Staff Pick that's been viewed 200,000 times in its first two weeks online. You can find more info at his Biolapse blog, but to really sink your teeth into the details, check out this behind-the-scenes video. (And if you feel inspired to grow your own carnivorous plants, just don't take them from the wild or buy from someone who does. The BSA suggests finding a reputable grower who uses vegetative cloning or starting them from responsibly sourced seeds.)
Related plant stories on MNN:
- This cobra lily is one plant you don't want to bug
- Carnivorous sundew catapults insects into traps
- 12 herbs and flowers that repel unwanted insects