Monday, July 13, 2015

Plants...

...need nitrogen. Some plants can't get it from the soil - but instead trap insects. We call these "carnivorous" plants and they include the Venus flytrap and the pitcher plant.

One pitcher plant has found a rather, shall we say, nicer answer to the nitrogen problem. Nepenthes hemsleyana doesn't trick insects into falling into its pitcher to be digested - it invites bats.

The pitcher is about the same size as the bat, which is called the Hardwicke's woolly bat. In fact? It's the perfect sleeping bag. The bat sleeps in the pitcher...and poops in the pitcher, providing the plant with nice nitrogen-rich fertilizer. (It's called mutualism - both species benefit with no downside to either. Plants are very fond of it - any plant that gives nectar in exchange for pollination is practicing mutualism).

Even more fascinating, the pitcher doesn't attract its "blind as a bat" friends visually - it's evolved leaves above the pitcher that give a specific signal when the bat's ultrasound bounces off.

Way more polite than eating innocent insects.