Lying in Wait

There are many ways an insect can meet its doom, but none seem quite as gruesome as slowly decomposing on the basal rosette of a Drosera rotundifolia: the round-leaved sundew.  One touch of the sticky gland-tipped hairs lining the leaves of the carnivore, and the bugs are trapped.  The fiery crimson foliage hems in its prey and digestive enzymes break it down into nourishing food. The sundew is prevalent in bogs surrounding parts of the University of Michigan Biological Station; they require the sustenance provided by the insects to overcome the acidic, nutrient-poor soils.

On a blistering afternoon in July, students and professors participate in the first “Bioblitz”, taking inventory of all species – plant and animal – on the Biostation’s property.

“This one just caught a mosquito,” a student exclaims referring to a sundew.

“Good, I hate those filthy blood suckers,” another remarks mercilessly. And in an instant, the class swarms the grotesque scene.

The condemned bug instinctively attempts to flee from the sundew’s clutches, but without avail, letting out a feeble “mmzzz,” from its wings.  The sticky hairs droop slightly, since at this time of day, the gland secretion is at a maximum.  The adhesive slowly coats the insect with each futile effort to escape; it suffocates, and dies.  The plant begins its absorption process, each scarlet hair, closing one by one upon its victim.  Digestion can persist for days. Upon closer inspection by the students, beyond the ruddy tentacles of the sundew, lie the exoskeleton remains underneath each leaf’s dripping maw.

By Vince McKeon