Readers’ wildlife

Reader Doris Fromage sent an email titled “Proposed honorary cats,” adding that “I know this is too long for your site.” I’m pondering the first bit (plants as honorary cats?), but she’s wrong about the second. Her notes are indented:

. . . in particular, white pitcher plants (Sarracenia leucophylla). I grow them for flying insect pest control, as we’re out in the country and properties around us have livestock.  Note: We experience virtually no flies or mosquitoes.  Here are some of my planters – I have over a dozen, with other carnivorous plants as well, but the white pitchers are really the stars:


I started with the one plant, but white pitchers are *quite* vigorous. If you lift the cap and look inside, you’ll often see doomed struggling individuals:
That’s a honeybee, possibly Apis mellifera.  We have a wild hive on our farm, which is good because we have fruit trees that need pollination.  My neighbor says they’re Africanized, but I’ve seen nothing to lead me to that conclusion after much interaction with them.
Of course the Venus fly trap (Dionaea muscipula) and sundew are the stars of the carnivorous plant family, because they move!  You typically see the remains after the fly trap is done with its catch:
IMG_20150912_154254132_HDR_zps0aaeb98a (1)
But while a Venus fly trap can catch perhaps 3 individual insects tops before the trap is worn out, the white pitcher is more like the Doomsday Machine from the old Star Trek:
(^ Not my own work O_O)
I had thought that the insects wander into the pitcher, find the internal stiff downward-pointing hairs directing them ever further in and down, until they fall into some fluid in the bottom and are dissolved.  Here is an image that, if you enlarge, shows the inward-facing bristles inside the cap – they go all the way down:
While that may happen, the evidence suggests something far more sinister is actually going on – see dissected pitcher pics below:
A dying pitcher from previous season:
The inside – including a freed fly (Musca domestica):
It’s an absolute TRAIN WRECK!!  They kill EVERYTHING that wanders in – even if there’s no way to digest it to extract the nutrients!  NOTHING gets out! They’d eat YOU if they could fit you inside!!  Sometimes there is a loud buzzing from a pitcher, loud enough to be heard several feet away, from the desperate struggles of a housefly. Even in a very slender pitcher, you can see the silhouette of carnage:
IMG_20141025_103704506_zps56adb3c4 (1)

I couldn’t resist adding this photo of an overheated squirrel sent by reader Barbara Wilson. I hope it was okay!

Western Gray Squirrel on a wire when the temperature was headed over 100 degrees, weather we’re not used to in western Oregon.  Its fur slicked down for minimum insulation.  It was so still we wondered if it had died, but eventually it got up and slowly made its way toward where these wires run through tree branches.  It’s on the middle wire of the three on the electric poles.

Hot squirrel on a wire%2c Corvallis OR%2c 20 Aug 2016 %282%29


  1. Randall Schenck
    Posted August 22, 2016 at 7:38 am | Permalink

    When you are on high voltage, not being grounded is a good thing.

  2. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted August 22, 2016 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    This is a very interesting posting. I was grinning all the way thru it. Why are the white pitchers the favorites?

  3. Posted August 22, 2016 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    Love those pitchers! And “silhouette of carnage” is a great phrase.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted August 22, 2016 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

      It’s a great name for a hair style.

  4. Hempenstein
    Posted August 22, 2016 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    There’s a Venus flytrap that I’ve been feeding in the front window at my favorite local brewpub (a dog-friendly establishment). After last night’s feeding I thought that I ought to look up whatever the actin/myosin-equivalent mechanism of closure is, but hadn’t gotten to that yet, so if anyone knows the details, pls post.

    • Hempenstein
      Posted August 22, 2016 at 10:44 am | Permalink

      OK, some answers. Triggering the hairs initiates a proton pump, releasing Ca++ ions leading to osmotic imbalance along a gradient, forcing some cells to swell & closing the trap.

  5. Jenny Haniver
    Posted August 22, 2016 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    “The silhouette of carnage.”

    That is an absolutely exquisite phrase.

    Fascinating post.

  6. Posted August 22, 2016 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    It’s OK! — Sedgequeen, a.k.a. Barbara Wilson

  7. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted August 22, 2016 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    I also very much admire your exploration that teaches us the gory truth about the innards of the carnivorous pitcher plant. Well done!

  8. Heather Hastie
    Posted August 22, 2016 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    Very interesting! I don’t know if we have pitcher plants here, but I’ll be letting the farmers in the family know about these.

  9. Darren Garrison
    Posted August 22, 2016 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    I love me some Sarracenia. I used to have a nice collection myself, until a sudden fungal infection of some sort wiped them out almost entirely within a matter of a week or two. (Yes, I tried a fungicide. No luck.) Still miss them.

    Photos, if it is okay to post my own links:

  10. Darren Garrison
    Posted August 22, 2016 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    BTW, my favorite is probably Sarracenia purpurea. I used to like observing the growth of new leaves–they bud from the base of an older leaf, facing in the opposite direction. See these two photos for examples:

  11. Posted August 22, 2016 at 2:42 pm | Permalink


  12. keith cook + / -
    Posted August 22, 2016 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know why she swallowed the fly,
    perhaps she’ll die

    great post, thanks!

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