January 27, 2005 | David F. Coppedge

Venus Flytrap Is Snappy-Fast

One tenth of a second is all the time the fly gets.  The traps of the Venus flytrap, an insectivorous plant Charles Darwin called “one of the most wonderful in the world,” somehow responds to stimuli quickly without muscles.  The entire mechanism is still largely unknown.  A team of French, UK and American scientists set out to study how it works so fast.  Their research, published in Nature,1, describes how the leaves are flexed into an outward curvature along two axes.  The trigger hairs inside the leaves propagate a signal that causes a rapid turnover, something like turning a half tennis ball inside out.  The closure has three phases: an initial slow action, a fast close, followed by a slow tightening of its grip around the prey.  See also the write-up by New Scientist, which ends, “Our study still leaves us baffled about one question that motivated him [Darwin] – how did this mechanism evolve?” (emphasis added).

1Forterre et al., “How the Venus flytrap snaps,” Nature 433, 421 – 425 (27 January 2005); doi:10.1038/nature03185.

Maybe it didn’t evolve; did you ever consider that possibility?
    With all our lab technology we still cannot understand how a brainless, eyeless plant managed to invent an exquisite, functioning trap.  Actually, the question these scientists investigated (the fast action) is one of the simplest aspects of this wonderful organism.  How does the plant keep from springing its traps when only one trigger hair is touched?  (This keeps it from responding unnecessarily to wind-blown particles.)  How does the signal get propagated at the cellular level?  How does it maintain the curvature of the leaves?  How did trigger hairs form at just the right positions?  How do the spines along the trap edges grow and overlap, to form a secure prison the fly can’t wiggle out of?  How does the trap close even more tightly after the prey is captured, so as to squeeze the juice out of the bug?  How does a plant digest animal tissue, and why does it need to, when it can apparently survive without it?  How does the trap know to stay closed until digestion is finished, and how does it reopen like new?  Where are the transitional forms for this amazing plant?  How can evolutionists believe it arose by chance?
    The Venus flytrap makes a wonderful object lesson for the family.  Pick one up at the nursery and let your kids experiment with it.  It’s a good way to have them learn to ask questions, try to figure out how things work, and develop a sense of wonder about natural phenomena.  Follow it up with a showing of the Moody Institute of Science classic The Prior Claim, a fun film that shows the plant in action.  It also shows a “simpler” plant – a fungus – that has a microscopic trap that is so fast, you can’t see the action even if you avoid blinking.  One moment the bug is outside, and within a split second it’s inside.  Amazing.  There are wonders everywhere that almost seem designed to create headaches for unbelievers.

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