Eureka!: Small Wonders

How Bugs Got on the Menu

Photo: Mitsuyasu Hasebe

By Sally Jarzab

Australian pitcher plants (shown here) lure, trap and then devour their insect prey with slippery, cup-shaped leaves loaded with digestive fluids. While such gruesome dining habits are unusual in the plant world, a new study shows that those that do have a taste for bug meat developed it along parallel pathways. As part of an international team, UB’s Victor Albert, professor of biological sciences, determined that three separate species of carnivorous plants used their genetic tool kits in much the same way to build their insect-digesting capabilities. The finding serves as an entrée to a better understanding of convergent evolution, by which unrelated species independently acquire similar traits.