Friday, March 5, 2010

Plants Mimic Dead Animals to Attract Pollinators

One of the most fascinating groups of plants are those that mimic the flesh of dead animals to attract insects, like flies, as unconvential pollinators or as a source of "food". I say unconvential because, unlike many insect pollinators which are primarily attracted to flowers based on a nutrient reward and have co-evolved with flower species, many of the insects attracted to these plants typically feed on dead, rotting flesh. These plants exploit some insect's necrophagous tendencies to achieve pollination without necessarily having to invest resources in the production of nutrient rewards for the insects.

(left--Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) from Englewood, Ohio; right--Chocolate Lily (Fritillaria camschatcensis ) from Anchorage, AK)

To learn more about how plants mimic corpses to attract insects as food, check out this great article in National Geographic magazine.
(left & middle--Purple Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia purpurea); right--Roundleaf Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia))