Plants need sunshine and water to grow. One type of plant, however, has another trick up its leaves. Pitcher plants snack on bugs for food. That happens after insects slip into the plant’s special pitcher. But why do bugs fall into these traps in the first place? In a new report, experts say it might have to do with the smells the pitchers are giving off!
Pitcher plants work by growing leaves that form a cup. The rims of these cups are super slippery. At the bottom of this cup is a pool of liquid called . Once a bug lands on the plant, it slips into the pool of nectar — and can’t get out. After that, it’s lunchtime for the pitcher plant!
In the new report, experts studied the role of smell in drawing the bugs to the pitcher plants. But it’s probably not a scent that you would notice. “The smell of the pitcher plants [we studied] is not very strong,” said Laurence Gaume, a co-author of the study. Yet Gaume explained that the smell could be “far clearer for the antennae of insects.”
Gaume’s team published their report on April 20. For their study, researchers grew four kinds of pitcher plants from North America. Each one gave off scents with slightly different chemicals. And different insects were attracted to the different scents.
For example, some plants had limonene. That chemical is in fruits with strong scents, such as lemons. Pitcher plants with those types of scents were very popular with butterflies and bees. Both of those insects help plants that help oranges and lemons grow! Other pitcher plants gave off scents with fatty acid chemicals. Those plants attracted bug , such as wasps.
Researchers could usually predict which bugs would fall into the traps based on the smell of the plants. Gaume says this supports the idea that pitcher plants “can target their .” However, the team hopes to carry out more studies. That way, they can be sure that bugs are all abuzz about the powerful smells of pitcher plants.
Updated April 27, 2023, 5:02 P.M. (ET)
By Tyler Burdick