With the cold, deadly calculation of a serial killer, the carnivorous Venus flytrap lies in wait for prey. When an innocent victim comes around looking for some sweet nectar, the plant is listening, waiting for it to commit a fatal mistake. And when it does, it starts to count to five.
This deadly count tells the Venus flytrap what kind of insect has been lured into its trap, and once ensnared, how much acidic juice it needs to transform the bug into a liquid lunch, New Scientist reported.
Scientists already know that some plants use math to figure out how to stretch out their food supplies. And they’ve also known how the Venus flytrap captures and eats its prey. But a new study out of Germany reveals that the plant actually can count electrical impulses, which then triggers a digestive process tailor-made for each of its victims, the Atlantic reported.
To reveal these sadistic details, Rainer Hedrich fed it some innocent crickets. And he had some very unhelpful advice for the bugs.
“If you don’t panic, the trap will open. But like everybody, once you’re trapped you panic, so you will try to escape… If you just sit there and wait, the next morning, the trap will open and you can leave. If you panic, you induce a deadly cycle of disintegration.”
Stay and freak out, and a “deadly cycle of disintegration” begins, which sounds like something out of a horror movie.
At the count of one, the insect — usually spiders, beetles, ants, and grasshoppers — still has a chance to escape. If one of these lands on the deadly plant searching for its yummy nectar, it has unknowingly stepped on a minefield, as the Christian Science Monitor put it.
At this point, it’s touched a trigger hair — but that’s not enough to set off the trap. It does, however, release the first electrochemical impulse that signals to the Venus flytrap that prey is available.
At the count of two, the bug touches the trigger hair again. The trap violently snaps shut, trapping the bug inside. Hopefully, at this point, the cricket takes Hedrich’s advice and stays calm. But it probably won’t. It’s sealed inside, and now the production of the chemical jasmonic acid has begun. Other plants use it as a defense mechanism, but in a carnivorous plant, this acid is used for eating.
And this is the beginning of the end for the cricket. The Venus flytrap counts each writhing attempt made by the bug to get out of the trap. And the more it struggles, the more the bug is telling the Venus flytrap how to eat it.
It’s a slow way to die.
At count three, and then four, the plant is learning how much digestive enzymes it needs to eat the insect and what nutrients it can provide. The bigger the bug, the more it’ll bump into those triggers, which the Venus flytrap counts, responding with more deadly juice.
By the count of five, the end is near. Digestion has truly begun, and what was once a chirping cricket is now a liquefied meal for the Venus flytrap.
This entire process takes quite a while. At seven hours, the trap fills with fluid and the bug mercifully asphyxiates. This prison essentially becomes a stomach, which spends a week digesting the insect; chemical sensors tells it there’s something still left to eat and when the meal is gone.
After the week is done, all that is left of the meal is an empty husk, which unceremoniously falls out or blows away.
So why does the killer Venus flytrap count like this? Hunting is costly, and therefore, the plant has to be efficient when it’s eating. And it must hunt in order to stay alive; its environment is scare on nutrients, so it must ensnare nutrient-rich victims to make up for it.
But being able to count isn’t the same kind of counting that humans do, said Wayne Fagerberg at the University of New Hampshire.
“Obviously it doesn’t have a brain to go ‘one, two, three, four’,” he said. “Effectively, it’s counting. It’s just not thinking about it.”
Now that’s cold.
[Image via Patila/Shutterstock]