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October 29, 2020 - Discover Magazine

Why Did Carnivorous Plants Become Meat Eaters?

Why Did Carnivorous Plants Become Meat Eaters?
Venus Flytrap with Victim© Photabulous!

Meet the predators of the plant world. Scientists are beginning to understand how they acquired a taste for insects and other small critters.

Since at least Darwin’s time, scientists have fawned over carnivorous plants. And who can blame them? It's hard not to be marveled by the way a sundew uses its sticky arms to immobilize prey, or the speedy snap of Venus flytrap and its uncanny resemblance to animal jaws. These unique species display skill sets that researchers have dissected for centuries in hopes of understanding how these plants became meat-eaters.

Recent technologies, such as genome analysis, have brought new insights to light that surely would have stunned some of the earliest carnivorous plant researchers. “Darwin would have given his firstborn to have such information,” says Thomas Givnish, a botanist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. But there are still some perplexing mysteries around how these plants came to be.

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