Photo: Ken-ichi Ueda (Flickr)
You won’t see bladderworts as movie stars anytime soon, but these carnivorous plants could put any monster to shame with their sinister traps.
What Are Bladderworts?
Bladderworts of the genus Utricularia are beautiful at first glance, with flowers resembling snapdragons or orchids. But below their attractive surface lies their sinister nature. They can capture prey in the blink of an eye.
Most bladderworts thrive in marshy, low nutrient soils. Stolons, or branching stems, extend into the waterlogged environment. They may resemble roots, but they are much more than that. The stolons are dotted with bag like traps ranging in size from 1/100 inch to 1/2 inch, depending on the species.
These bladders are set with hair triggers ready to suck in anything from microscopic creatures to larger prey like mosquito larvae, tadpoles and small fish.
Scientists have long marveled at the bladders’ technology, but the traps worked so quickly, it was difficult to tell exactly how they worked.
Now high speed cameras are giving scientists their first look at how the bladder traps function. They are first pumped nearly dry, creating a pressure difference between the trap’s inside and the water outside.
When an unsuspecting victim brushes against a series of hairs along the trap door– Bam!…The door bursts open and sucks everything inside. The traps use a unique elastic buckle.
Under just the right pressure, the dome-like trap door stays shut. A tiny touch collapses the door like a bubble popping, only this bubble is bouncy and the buckle springs back to reset itself.
Bladderworts will never star in monster movies, but their trap technology may be put to good use. Scientists think they may be able to use them to design micro pipettes for the bio-tech industry.
(English subtitles are available. Just click the “CC” button on the video.)