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A Student Discovered The First Meat-Eating Plant In North America – And It Feasts On Salamanders

Teskey Baldwin

Teskey Baldwin was an undergrad at the University of Guelph. In 2017, Teskey and some of his classmates were visiting a Canadian park. He saw something unbelievable that he then shared with his biology professor, M. Alex Smith. It was a plant that caught his eye, and he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. He found vegetation known as turtle socks. It is also known as a purple pitcher plant. It has a bell-shaped receptacle that can catch insects and other small invertebrates. His discovery prompted many scientists from Guelph and Toronto universities to head there and check it out. Two years later, a paper was written about the plants.

The Purple Pitcher Plant

The purple pitcher plant is found in various places around the eastern part of North America. Its range stretches from Florida’s Gulf coast all the way to Nova Scotia, Canada. You can even find these plants in the Rockies.

Meat-Eating Plants

Meat-eating plants aren’t as rare as you might think. There are close to 600 different types on Earth. Some of these plants have pitchers, while others deploy traps. There is one type called sundews, which work like living flypaper. They capture insects with their stickiness and then devour them. The bladderwort is much more brutal. This plant sucks invertebrates into their bladder, and the poor unsuspecting victim cannot escape.


The plants in the pitcher plant family have been fascinating people for centuries. The Sarraceniaceae was a type that fascinated Teskey, and also Charles Darwin. In 1860, he was in England when he studied the sundew. After examining the plant, he wrote, “I care more about Drosera than the origin of all the species in the world.” Darwin was so amazed by the sundew that he went on to study other species of meat-eating plants. He was fascinated with the plants, and he even came up with the name, Venus flytrap.

“Scientific Crap”

Even though Darwin had an excellent reputation, some people didn’t agree with the papers that he wrote on these plants. One botanist read Darwin’s work and called it “scientific garbage.” this put a Swedish biologist named Carl Linneaus on the defensive. He believed that these plants were real, but they were “against the order of nature.”

Teskey’s Discovery

The plant that Teskey found in Canada was a type of pitcher plant. It is a member of what is known as the New World group, which also includes cobra plants. These plants grow close to the ground, and they have specialized leaves that are capable of capturing their prey. Typically, these purple pitcher plants only eat invertebrates. They often aren’t too fussy. They will eat wasps, flies, and beetles that land near them so that they can be trapped and eaten. They eat so many insects that scientists have found over 40 insect families in pitcher plants around Ontario and 115 in North Carolina alone.

How To the Plants Catch Their Prey

The plant’s leaves are shaped in a way that they can catch and hold rainwater. This fills the plant with enzymes. When the plant captures its prey, the enzymes assist with digestion. They also have small organisms that can dissolve food. The bowl of these plants can hold insect larvae, mites, and bacteria.

What Did Teskey See?

While these pitcher plants are seen all over the world, Teskey shouldn’t have been surprised to find one. It wasn’t actually the plant that he was so impressed by; it was what the plant was eating. Teskey found this to be an astonishing find, and he wasn’t alone. A Student Discovered The First Meat-Eating Plant In North America – And It Feasts On Salamanders.

More Than Salamanders

As scientists began researching more of these plants and have found that they are hunting small animals such as rats and birds. These plants were once known as insect-eating plants, and now they are finding out that these plants are much hungrier and eating larger animals than they ever expected.

Kicking Into High Gear

The scientists from the universities of Toronto and Guelph started kicking their study into high gear. They wanted to examine more of these plants to see what they were eating. They were going to report the outcome of their study in an article for the Journal of Ecology. At the end of the study, they found eight different salamanders trapped in the plants that they were studying. This study was proof that what we thought about the pitcher plant for so many years was wrong. It turns out that salamanders might be a significant part of their diet. The fact that these plants eat differently than we once thought was a huge discovery for the scientists studying the plants. Teskey says that this goes to show that there is always something new to be discovered.

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