Meat-eating Plant That Munches on Baby Salamanders Discovered in Canada's Little Bog of Horrors

Scientists have found plants in a remote part of Canada that eat salamanders, in what is believed to be a first in North America.

The vertebrate-eating, bell-shaped pitcher plants live in the western, low wetlands region of Algonquin Provincial Park. The park straddles deciduous forests to the south and a coniferous landscape to the north. It is home to a diverse range of flora and fauna spanning five major types of habitat, making it popular with research scientists, including those who study amphibians.

Also known as pitfall traps, the plants live in open, wet environments with low-nutrient soil, where they devour creatures like insects and spiders that land in their slippery leaves after being attracted by their color or nectar. Once trapped inside, their prey rots in rainwater and is digested. Unlucky bugs and animals have also been known to die by starvation, from the heat or infections in the bells.

Eating meat is thought to help the plants ingest nitrogen in deficient land. One such plant was found by a different team of scientists on the remote Mount Victoria, in Palawan, Philippines, to eat rats.

It was previously thought only tropical pitcher plants ate vertebrates. However, in the new paper published in the journal Ecology, biologists at the University of Guelph in Ontario describe finding Sarracenia pitcher plants in Algonquin Provincial Park that devour vertebrates, specifically salamanders.

Pitcher plant salamander University of Guelph
A pitcher plant with a trapped salamander inside of it, photographed by scientists in Algonquin Provincial Park. University of Guelph

In 2017, the researchers looked at 144 pitcher plants and found eight baby salamanders inside: 6 alive and 2 dead. In August and September 2018, the team looked at 58 plants and found 20 percent had baby salamanders trapped inside. Some contained more than on salamander.

The Sarracenia is also known to eat flies, beetles, and hymenopterans—an order of insects that include bees and ants.

While some of the salamanders survived in the bells for 19 days, others went from alert, active and swimming in the pitcher fluid, to dead in three days.

The researchers concluded that the frequency of pitcher plants capturing salamanders suggests the animals are likely a "substantial nutrient source for pitcher plants."

A statement released by the University of Guelph reporting the finding jokingly dubbed the wetland studied by the team "the little bog of horrors."

Alex Smith, associate professor at the University of Guelph Department of Integrative Biology, explained in a statement the amphibians were likely lured to the plants by insects or while fleeing predators. The plants could also take advantage of young salamanders who have transformed from larvae and try and fail to make it on to land.