Scientists Say Venus Flytraps Can Count

venus-flytraps-can-count

Venus flytraps are probably the most famous plants that hunt. They lure insects with sweet nectar but, as the unsuspecting bugs move around the plant’s open trap, they brush up against sensitive trigger hairs and….

Snap! The trap slams shut, ensnaring a tasty morsel.

But how does a plant know? It turns out that the key to this sequence of events, and the digestive process that follows, is the carnivorous plant’s ability to count.

Venus flytraps actually count how many times a bug brushes against the trigger hairs scattered across the inside of the plant’s traps. The number of times these stiff filaments are bumped dictates how the plant traps and consumes its meal, according to a new study published Thursday in the journal Current Biology.

It goes something like this:

A foraging bug – despite their name, Venus flytraps subsist mainly on ants, spiders, beetles, and grasshoppers, and not so much on flying insects – finds itself on the open trap of the waiting plant. As it ambles around gathering juicy nectar, it probably has no idea it’s navigating a sort of minefield.

The first time the bug brushes against one of the sensitive trigger hairs, an electrochemical impulse travels through the plant, alerting the hungry plant of prey.

Nothing appears to happen with the first contact. But inside, the plant is primed to attack. The plant waits for more movement in the next 20 seconds to prove prey is really present and it’s not just a raindrop or other false alarm.

As the bug continues to bumble around, it touches a trigger hair a second time. That second brush sets off the iconic snap of the trap. The bug is stuck.

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SOURCE: Christian Science Monitor, Eva Botkin-Kowacki