Tag Archives: insects

Meat Lovers: Pitcher Plants

You’ve probably seen pitcher plants around. After all, they are a common sight in nurseries and at pasar malam markets. They are well known for being carnivorous, trapping small insects inside fluid-filled jugs where they unfortunately meet their sorry end. But what exactly are pitcher plants and why are they so different from normal plants?

The term “pitcher plant” generally refers to any carnivorous plant with pitchers that trap insects. This includes several families of organisms such as Nepenthaceae and Sarraceniaceae .


Image: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090804081545.htm

So, how do these plants catch their prey? Basically, insects make a beeline for the pitchers, attracted by their colour or the smell they emit. However, when they stand on the peristome, also known as the edge of the pitcher, they fall in, landing in a pool of enzyme-containing fluids where they are slowly broken down into simpler nutrients such as amino acids [2] [3].


Image: https://www.sciencesource.com/archive/-SS2521889.html

Pitcher fluid contains more than just insect-digesting enzymes. In fact, the components that make up the fluid of different types of pitcher plants vary. While generally acidic, the fluid in certain species are mostly made up of rainwater that collects in the pitcher, while those in other species contain more secretions from the plant itself. Pitchers also have an operculum, or lid. In some species, the operculum prevents rainwater from entering the pitcher diluting its fluids.


Image: https://www.bhg.com/gardening/flowers/perennials/growing-pitcher-plants/

Pitcher plants generally live in areas where the soil does not have enough nutrients for typical plants to thrive. Therefore, they rely on insects to obtain sufficient amounts of what they are unable to get from the ground. However, pitcher plants still photosynthesise to produce glucose. Insects are only a replacement for substances they would otherwise have absorbed from the soil.

It is interesting to note that many species of pitcher plants are not closely related to one another, suggesting convergent evolution – different organisms independently evolved to have this particular appearance and insect-trapping ability. For example, the Australian pitcher plant is more closely related to starfruit than to other species of pitchers [7]. It’s pretty amazing how all these different pitcher plants adapted to their situation in similar ways.

So the next time you see one of these protein-guzzling plants around, do remember that they’re simply doing what they can to live their life to the fullest, just like you and me.


[1]: https://www.britannica.com/plant/pitcher-plant

[2]: https://www.sciencedaily.com/terms/pitcher_plant.htm

[3]: https://www.botany.one/2013/10/adapted-kill-pitcher-plant-traps-prey/

[4]: https://academic-oup-com.libproxy1.nus.edu.sg/aob/article/107/2/181/188441

[5]: http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20150420-the-giant-plants-that-eat-meat

[6]: https://www.thenakedscientists.com/articles/questions/carnivorous-plants-can-photosynthesise-so-why-eat-flies

[7]: https://www.nature.com/news/how-plants-evolved-into-carnivores-1.21425




Hidden Treasures of the LKC Natural History Museum – Part 6 Bonus: The Visionary Digital Lab

Hi there! This article is the final part of a series featuring the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum in Singapore. If you’d like to learn more, why not start at the beginning? Otherwise, enjoy the second bonus of our feature!

While visiting the Cryogenic Collection, I was blessed with an unexpected discovery. Adjacent to the collection is a humble office used by resident scientists. At first glance, it looks like an ordinary science lab – computers, boxes of gloves, pipettes – but step in a little further and you’ll witness this impressive contraption:


This device, known as the Visionary Digital Lab, transforms an ordinary DSLR camera into a high powered camera suited for photographing tiny insects in extraordinary detail. And when I say extraordinary, I mean this:


See the thin black line in the bottom left? That represents 1mm. This stunning capture of a Nemopoda speiseri fly is constructed by combining several brightly lit, high resolution images, each focusing on a particular spot on the specimen, to create a composite image that brings every nook and cranny of this miniscule insect into sharp detail. Some of these images are in fact uploaded to an online archive managed by the Museum at the Biodiversity of Singapore Online, where researchers from all over the world can use it as a reference.

Still not impressed? Here’s another version of the same device in one of the museum’s dedicated labs:

IMG_5386.jpgI promise you there’s a specimen on that dish. Just keep squinting. Or look over here:


There it is! From the slimmest bristle to the thinnest wing, our little friend has appeared. As mentioned, you can peruse other photos like this courtesy of the museum and its partners at Museum at the Biodiversity of Singapore Online , which also features Southeast Asian birds, mammals, reptiles and more in exquisite quality.