Field of Science

Beware the glow

Plants attract animals for various purposes, mostly dispersal of pollen and seeds, but no uses more nefarious than to supplement their nutrients.  So called carnivorous plants don't eat animals for food, but they grow in nutrient poor habitats and capture prey to provide mineral nutrients.  Floral biologists have know for years that flowers absorb and reflect ultraviolet light providing very distinctive patterns for insects whose vision extends into the UV wavelengths.  But this is quite a surprise; pitcher plants also reflect UV light, or glow in UV light, to attract insects to their deaths.  The image here, borrowed from the authors of this study reported at the National Geographic web site, shows a tropical pitcher plant (Nepenthes), in both white and UV light, and the lip of the pit fall trap glows brightly when illuminated with UV light.  How many times has TPP looked at these things and never had it occur to him that they might use UV to enhance their effectiveness?  Dang, but this happens all the time in science, in biology.  So kudos to the authors for seeing more than the rest of us. 

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