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Creation 37(1):29, January 2014

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Pitcher plants and animal sanitation

pitcher-plants

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Insect-eating plants fascinate many people. Indeed, Charles Darwin himself wrote a whole book about them, Insectivorous Plants(1875).1 They have many interesting design features, and neither he nor modern scientists could explain how the Venus Flytrap could have evolved its snapping-trapping mechanism.2

Another mechanism of trapping insects is seen in pitcher plants: they have leaf-like structures that form a cavity that traps liquids. Insects are attracted, and they fall in and drown. The body is dissolved providing nutrients for the plant, which is especially useful in nutrient-poor soils.

Evolutionists have different problems explaining this. For one thing, they believe that the pitcher trap evolved independently four different times; just once would be hard enough! This is supposedly ‘convergent evolution’, but rather the pitcher plant variants reflect a common Designer. However, for biblical creationists, this raises the question of how such plants survived before the Fall.

When it comes to insects, this is not a problem in general. While insects are ‘living’ in the sense of modern Western biology, the biblical authors never considered them so. The Bible uses a specific Hebrew phrase nephesh chayyāh (נפש חיה=living souls/creatures) for vertebrates, but never for insects (or plants). Instead, we would say that insects are ‘God’s robots’.

However, recent research shows that pitcher plants also need not ‘eat’ insects, but have other important functions.3,4,5 For example, Borneo’s giant pitcher plant Nepenthes rajah, which can hold 3.5 litres (almost a gallon) of water, lures rats and tree shrews with nectar. But not to eat them: the small mammals use the pitcher as a toilet.

So in return for giving the rodents an energy-rich meal, the rodents provide nitrogen-rich fertilizer. Another species, N. hemsleyana, provides a home for bats in return for fertilizer. This home is humid, preventing the bats from dehydrating, so the bats dwelling there are healthier than others.

This is yet another example of a design feature that was thought to be exclusively for killing that turns out to have a non-lethal and even beneficial function.

References and notes

  1. Darwin, C., Insectivorous plants, John Murray, London, 1875; accessible via: The complete works of Charles Darwin online, darwin-online.org.uk, which quotes from Darwin’s later autobiography: “The fact that a plant should secrete, when properly excited, a fluid containing an acid and ferment, closely analogous to the digestive fluid of an animal, was certainly a remarkable discovery.” Return to text
  2. Sarfati, J., Venus flytrap—Ingenious mechanism still baffles Darwinists, Creation 29(4):36–37, 2007; creation.com/flytrap. Return to text
  3. Pain, S., The Borneo Hills diet: Pitcher plants’ strange prey, New Scientist 221(2954):43–45, 2014. Return to text
  4. Clarke, C., and 5 others, Tree shrew lavatories: a novel nitrogen sequestration strategy in a tropical pitcher plant, Biology Letters 5(5):632–635, 2009. Return to text
  5. Greenwood, M., and 4 others, A unique resource mutualism between the Giant Bornean Pitcher Plant, Nepenthes rajah, and members of a small mammal community, PLoS One 6(6):e21114, 2011. Return to text

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