First carnivorous-plant fossil is 40 million years old

Dec 3, 2014

Image: Alexander R. Schmidt, University of Göttingen

By Aamna Mohdin

It lurked in wait for unsuspecting prey on the swampy Baltic coastline 35–47 million years ago. Now the first fossilised specimens of a carnivorous plant are helping scientists probe the organism’s early evolution and its Eocene habitat.

Researchers from the University of Göttingen in Germany found the fossil of two leaves from the plant in the Jantarny amber mine near Kaliningrad, Russia. It seems to be related to plants from the Roridulaceae family, which catch their prey using long, sticky hairs.

“We were all so excited when we discovered it because it’s very beautiful and striking,” says lead researcher Eva-Maria Sadowski. “It’s amazing to look at something so old, yet so well preserved.”

The fossils were a long way from where this family is endemic: South Africa. “It was surprising to find the fossils in Europe. It suggests they were probably more widely distributed than initially thought and later restricted to a few places,” says co-author Alexander Schmidt.

Supercontinent

This plant family is thought to have originated in Africa and became isolated there after the Gondwana supercontinent – comprising modern-day Africa, South America, Madagascar, India, Australia, the Middle East and Antarctica – broke apart about 180 million years ago.


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12 comments on “First carnivorous-plant fossil is 40 million years old

  • @OP link – This plant family is thought to have originated in Africa and became isolated there after the Gondwana supercontinent – comprising modern-day Africa, South America, Madagascar, India, Australia, the Middle East and Antarctica – broke apart about 180 million years ago.

    The leaves have hairs that could have been used to capture prey. With only two leaves preserved in the amber, it’s not yet possible to know what the entire plant looked like and what its diet could have been, but the plant family today catches a wide range of arthropods.

    The Roridulaceae genus Roridula is a quirk of botanical carnivory, as the plants depend on relationships with other organisms to successfully digest their prey. They trap prey using sticky hairs on their leaves, but depend on a symbiotic species of capsid bug to digest them and then consume their droppings instead. One bug’s demise is another’s gain.

    The modern relatives of these plants in South Africa are shrubs – unlike other modern carnivorous plants which are herbs. Like other carnivorous plants, they grow in acid, mineral deficient peaty Sphagnum covered soils.

    It is an interesting step towards carnivorous plants, for the plant to capture prey and have bugs eat and digest it to leave droppings for the plant.

    It is also possible, that if insects were stuck to the leaves, they could fertilise the ground after fallen leaves decomposed.



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  • 2
    Otangelo says:

    the trap mechanism of carnivorous plants is intelligently designed.

    Evidence of Intelligent Design: Dung-Eating Plants

    http://elshamah.heavenforum.org/t1904-evidence-of-intelligent-design-dung-eating-plants#3177

    http://sensuouscurmudgeon.wordpress.com/2011/01/29/evidence-of-intelligent-design-dung-eating-plants/

    Resident bats use pitcher plant as toilet, which appears at the excellent website, PhysOrg. The bold font was added by us:

    The pitcher plants are carnivorous species that usually feed on insects and small vertebrates, but one species has been found that prefers to dine on the feces of bats.

    Scientists from the University Brunei Darussalam and from Germany have been studying the aerial pitcher plant Nepenthes rafflesiana variety elongata, from Borneo. The plants live in peat bogs and heaths and are notable for their extremely large aerial pitchers.

    Carnivorous plants are always interesting. Here’s a Wikipedia article on this particular species: Nepenthes rafflesiana. We continue with the PhysOrg article:

    Pitcher plants grow on nutrient-poor soils and supplement their nitrogen source by feeding on insects and small animals. The victims are attracted to the pitcher by its colors and smells, but once inside they are trapped on the slippery sides and are drawn into the fluid at the bottom where they drown. The fluid contains digestive enzymes to extract nitrogen and other needed nutrients as the bodies are digested.

    Instead of insects in the large pitchers, the researchers, led by tropical ecologist Dr. Ulmar Grafe, sometimes found roosting bats. …

    The Elongata pitchers are perfectly suited to their residents, with a girdle half-way up to ensure they do not slip down the sides, and there is little fluid and so no chance of being drowned if they did slip.

    Okay, so the bats live in pitcher plants. But you’re wondering: What’s the big deal here? Where’s the ID? You’ll see soon enough. Let’s move along:

    The researchers found that about 33.8 percent of the foliar nitrogen in the pitcher plants originated in the feces of the bats, and the level of nitrogen was much higher than in pitchers of the same species that did not have a resident bat.

    How wonderful — now that’s intelligent design! One more excerpt from PhysOrg:

    http://rsbl.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/7/3/436

    The bat also benefits from the association because it is sheltered and hidden from predators when it is nestled within the pitcher. Dr. Grafe said the environment within the pitcher is also free of the parasites that often live in bat roosts.

    A mutually beneficial arrangement. Verily, the implications for intelligent design are overwhelming.

    And we leave you with a lingering question — something to keep you busy over the weekend: If a bat that feeds on blood is a vampire, what should we call these plants that feed on bat dung? (Please, dear reader, your suggestions should be … tasteful.)



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  • Otangelo Dec 7, 2014 at 9:52 am

    Okay, so the bats live in pitcher plants. But you’re wondering: What’s the big deal here? Where’s the ID? You’ll see soon enough. Let’s move along:

    The preconceptions of ID are clearly in the mind of the evolution denier, not the symbiotic evolutionary relationship.

    The researchers found that about 33.8 percent of the foliar nitrogen in the pitcher plants originated in the feces of the bats, and the level of nitrogen was much higher than in pitchers of the same species that did not have a resident bat.

    … The new variety was evolving to adapt accordingly!

    How wonderful — now that’s intelligent design!

    Nope! It is a clear example of divergent evolution possibly leading to speciation.

    One more excerpt from PhysOrg:

    http://rsbl.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/7/3/436

    The bat also benefits from the association because it is sheltered and hidden from predators when it is nestled within the pitcher. Dr. Grafe said the environment within the pitcher is also free of the parasites that often live in bat roosts.

    A clear case of a symbiotic relationship, followed by a move towards speciation by a varietal form of plant being selected to exploit a new resource, while the bat benefits from the plant consuming any parasites. – A win – win situation which has arisen by bats chancing on new rooting sites.

    A mutually beneficial arrangement.

    The well known biological ecology of symbiosis.

    Verily, the implications for intelligent design are overwhelming.

    . . . .But only in the circular thinking of those who are insufficiently scientifically educated to recognise basic biology!

    @ PhysOrg: link
    Service benefit provided by N. r. elongata to K. h. hardwickii. (a) Aerial pitcher of N. rafflesiana var. elongata. (b) The same pitcher with the front tissue removed to reveal a roosting Hardwick’s woolly bat. (c) The shorter aerial pitcher of N. rafflesiana variety typica. {see the accompanying diagrams on the link.}

    A pitcher has evolved a varietal form (the clue is in the plant name), better adapted to sheltering bats, to their mutual advantage, and is gradually losing its wasted insect attracting features, giving the plants which do not waste energy on unused features a competitive advantage.
    Regular symbiosis, and evolution in action!



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  • Otangelo:

    the trap mechanism of carnivorous plants is intelligently designed.

    Sorry but that statement will not go unanswered around here. Who was the designer ? Who designed the designer ?

    Why do we even need the concept of a designer when we have perfectly good natural explanations for the evolution of carnivorous plants, – and indeed all life ?

    And we leave you with a lingering question — something to keep you busy over the weekend: If a bat that feeds on blood is a vampire, what should we call these plants that feed on bat dung? (Please, dear reader, your suggestions should be … tasteful.)

    Well I was going to call them triffids, but then that’s science fiction. How about we stick with “carnivorous” ?



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  • Mr DArcy Dec 7, 2014 at 3:54 pm

    the trap mechanism of carnivorous plants is intelligently designed.

    Sorry but that statement will not go unanswered around here. Who was the designer ? Who designed the designer ?

    What’s the betting that the people making those silly assertions have never seen a live insectivorous plant!

    I have not seen a live specimen of this Borneo species or its variety, but I have hands-on experience growing botanical specimens of some of its relatives and fellow carnivores.
    – Darlingtonias, Dionaea muscipula (Venus Fly trap) and Drosera species etc.

    The Sundews (http://www.growsundews.com/sundews/sundew_drosera_information.html) have hairs with sticky globs on the end rather like the OP plant, but their leaves can also curl over a trapped insect and digest it. It is a further evolutionary stage beyond the simple trapping with adhesive hairs used by the fossil Roridulaceae in the OP.

    Mechanical movements of leaves and flower petals in plants, are not at all unusual, and are quite common.



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  • Otangelo Dec 7, 2014 at 9:52 am

    Can I recommend actually reading to the end of the link you posted!

    This mutualistic relationship seems to be restricted to Borneo, involving one particular subspecies of K. hardwickii and one variety of N. rafflesiana. Our study shows that woolly bats consistently use pitchers as daytime roosts. However, since woolly bats in other areas of Borneo make occasional use of other pitcher plant species (N. bicalcarata and N. ampullaria) that are clearly less well suited as roosts (own observations and A.-M. Seibert 2010, personal communication), Nepenthes–woolly bat associations are prime candidate models to study the evolution of mutualistic relationships with opportunities to investigate varying degrees of exploitation. http://rsbl.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/7/3/436

    Perhaps you should look-up the meanings of the zoological term “sub-species” and the botanical term, “variety”? – To help avoid suffering from “irreducible incredulity”!



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  • Yes I also used to have a wee tank with sundews, venus fly traps, and pitcher plants. Sorry the Latin names escape me, but drosera sounds familiar. The idea of a carnivorous plant sucking the life out of a highland midge on the Scottish moors somehow appeals to me. Recycling in action. Maybe I am cruel, but then I have had so many midge bites in my life ….. !



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  • Otangelo Dec 7, 2014 at 9:52 am

    A mutually beneficial arrangement. Verily, the implications for intelligent design are overwhelming.

    I’m afraid the evidence of “faith-blinkers” inhibiting the learning of science in the clowns who wrote the drivel on this link (elshamah.heavenforum.org/t1904-evidence-of-intelligent-design-dung-eating-plants) is overwhelming!

    Only the profoundly scientifically illiterate, would quote an article which explicitly, and in detail, explains evidence of symbiotic evolution and speciation in progress, as “overwhelming evidence for ID”!!!!!



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  • Come on Otangelo, if it was ID, don’t you think there could have been a better way for the plant to get its nitrogen than to have a bat shit in its mouth?



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  • Otangelo Dec 7, 2014 at 9:52 am

    And we leave you with a lingering question — something to keep you busy over the weekend: If a bat that feeds on blood is a vampire, what should we call these plants that feed on bat dung?

    Nepenthes rafflesiana var. elongata. – Using an internationally accepted scientific name, which you included in your earlier post, is hardly a matter requiring great thought! – But I forgot – Creationists make up their own pseudo-science while ignoring the well evidenced, research-based, stuff they cannot even recognise!



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