“Carnivorous Plants Eat Poop From Tiny Bats”

February 2, 2011

I couldn’t think of a better title than the one I found in this Wired article. It is perfect. It  starts scary and you think, “uh oh the carnivorous plants are going to eat me” and then you find out they EAT POOP! This is hilarious in itself until you then read that the poop isn’t just normal run-of-the-mill everyday poop, it’s from tiny bats! I love it. Seriously. If you want to discover my sense of humor, read the title of this post.

But the article is actually interesting too. It talks about the symbiotic relationship between the carnivorous plants (a species of pitcher plant) and the tiny bats (Hardwick’s woolly bat) in the marshes of Borneo. As with plants in bogs, marshes and fens across the world, the limiting nutrient for the pitcher plants is nitrogen. Carnivorous plants get some nitrogen from the insects they absorb with their acidic juices and they could get some nitrogen if they attempted to absorb the entire bats. However, the ‘pitcher’ opening of plants is smaller than the bats so they don’t fall into the pit of fly despair. They do, however, roost in the upper part of the plant, which is free of the blood-sucking parasites apparently found elsewhere in the marshes of Borneo. Not only do they sleep, but they poop and people who use guano as a fertilizer know that bat poop is chock full of nitrogen.

So the bats get a cozy safe place for their daytime abode and the plants get a meal of poop. It doesn’t sound like that good of a trade unless you are a nitrogen-starved marsh plant, but hey, if it works for them, it works for me.

On a related note, I am pumped to have 5th graders up at Bohart again. The curriculum is based on ecosystems and interspecies relationships and one of the things we talk about sometimes is symbiotic relationships. Last time my big examples were birds on bison and lichen. Just wait until I throw this one at the kids!

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