Plants Like Tits Too

I am stuck at the junior high level in much of my sense of humour, and a story on the BBC website caused me a bit of a titter. Killer plant ‘eats’ great tit at Somerset nursery

The story is a bit redundant as the picture tells the whole story.

Pitcher plant eats great tit

The plant above is one of 91 species of Nepenthes – the Monkey Cups.

Nepenthes, a native of Southeast Asia and Australia, forms pitchers (cups) that hang from trees. Its pitcher is similar to that of the North American pitcher plant in that it relies on a pool of water to trap its prey. It has a most unusual leaf that first looks like a normal leaf, then develops a tendril at its tip, and finally the tip of the tendril develops an amazing pitcher. It gains support by twining the tendril around another plant. The trap, like our own pitcher plant, lures its prey into the pitfall trap by a combination of decaying odors and sometimes a red coloration. As the pitcher develops, it swells and droops due to its weight.

As it matures, it suddenly begins inflates with air. Once inflated it begins to fill with liquid, then opens, revealing the enticing interior. The top of the trap has a lid that initially covers the pitcher until growth is complete. When the leaf is fully grown, the lid opens and the trap is ready.

They attract insects with the odor of nectar. Once inside, the insect finds it cannot get a grip on the walls of the pitcher because a flaky wax on the interior surface peels off as it struggles to climb. Eventually, it falls into the water and struggles to escape. The motion caused by the struggle stimulates digestive glands to release a digestive acid. This acid is so strong that a midge will disappear within hours. The largest of these, the Rajah pitcher, is able to digest mice! Like our own pitcher plant, this one too has its live inhabitants, the largest of which is a small crab.

Insect larvae feed on the decaying remains of prey. Others live in the upper levels and dip down occasionally to seize one of the larval inhabitants. In one case, the plant provides a chamber in its stem where ants live. The ants venture to the pitchers, grab some of the decaying prey, and sit on the lip of the pitcher to dismember it. As they break apart the body, pieces fall back into the pitcher’s awaiting pool, where the now smaller fragments decay more quickly than would a whole insect.

The tits (Paridae) are a family of small birds endemic to the British Isle. The largest, or Great Tit (Parus major) is described thus:

green and yellow with a striking glossy black head with white

cheeks and a distinctive two-syllable song. It is a woodland bird which has readily adapted to man-made habitats to become a familiar garden visitor. It can be quite aggressive at a birdtable, fighting off smaller tits. In winter it joins with blue tits and others to form roaming flocks which scour gardens and countryside for food.

The tit feeds on seeds, nuts, and insects which probably explains why it ended up face down in a pitcher plan.

Here on PEI, we have a pitcher plant, Sarracenia purpurea, the same one that is the Provincial flower of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Whether or not S. purpurea likes tits, I have no idea.

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