Did you know that some plants want to be toilets?
Carnivorous plants are fascinating because they consume organisms rather than being consumed. They evolved to nosh on insects and the occasional vertebrate in places around the world where more typical plant fare, such as nutrient-rich soil, is not reliably on the menu. But did you know that some carnivorous plants have given up catching creepy crawlies and instead feed on animal poop?
Nepenthes lowii, a species of pitcher plant found in Borneo, has evolved into a toilet for tree shrews, rats, bats, and birds. These animals sit on the enormous pitchers of Nepenthes lowii and lick fatty food oozing from the lid of the pitcher while defecating inside.
In a recent study published in Annals of Botany, a team of botanists detailed how some Nepenthes species have evolved to get their nutrients not from the animals themselves but the animals’ waste—specifically, the nitrogen-rich droppings of mammals. The study found that these poop-eating plants stored more than twice as much high-quality nitrogen as their insectivorous cousins. This means that these living toilets get more nutrients from their new diet than their insect-eating cousins.
The relationship between pitcher plants and animals is not limited to Nepenthes lowii. Other Nepenthes species were also found collecting animal droppings, such as Nepenthes hemsleyana, which even advertises itself to a particular species of bat using the shape of its pitchers to reflect the animal’s ultrasound calls. The pitchers provide a special ridge for the bat to cling on to while it relieves itself.
In conclusion, carnivorous plants are an amazing example of how nature adapts to survive in different environments. The fact that some carnivorous plants have evolved into toilets for animals is just one example of how they have adapted to survive in nutrient-poor environments.
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