The plants that feed on salamanders

by Patrick
5 years ago

There are carnivorous plants in Algonquin Provincial Park. Well, not just any carnivorous plants: these beauties are regularly making meals of salamanders. Preposterous? No, really!


Botanical carnivory is an evolutionary marvel of the plant kingdom that has long fascinated general onlookers and naturalists alike. Carnivorous plants grow under nutrient-poor conditions and in-part circumvent nutrient limitations by drawing nutrients from captured prey. The Northern Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia purpurea purpurea) is found across eastern North America and has been subject to a wealth of observational and experimental studies. The documented prey of these plants is diverse and comprised almost exclusively of invertebrates. A recent observational study based at the AWRS, lead by researchers Patrick Moldowan and Alex Smith, documented that vertebrate prey can occur with a striking frequency in the Northern Pitcher Plant. Visual surveys of plants were conducted during the metamorphic Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) dispersal period in Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario. In 2018, metamorphic Spotted Salamanders were captured in nearly 20% (1 in 5) of surveyed plants and it was estimated that plants are responsible for 4-5% of salamander early life stage mortality in our study area!



Vertebrate animals, including amphibians, have been reported previously as rare prey for carnivorous plants. What makes this report so surprising is the frequency with which these plants are catching and consuming vertebrate prey. The high frequency of salamander captures in pitcher plants suggests that these plants serve as a non-trivial source of mortality for salamanders and salamanders serve as an appreciable seasonal nutrient pulse for pitcher plants at our study site.


In press coverage from Canada to Chile, US to UK, Italy, Spain, Russia, and more, a lot has already been said of our latest research. Here is a selection of reputable popular and scientific press:

National Geographic
Smithsonian Magazine
Science News for Students
Mother Nature Network
New Scientist
Live Science
The Guardian
University of Toronto
University of Guelph
Full selection of press coverage here.


Research paper:

Moldowan PD*, MA Smith*, T Baldwin, T Bartley, N. Rollinson, H. Wynen. 2019. Nature’s pitfall trap: Salamanders as rich prey for carnivorous plants in a nutrient-poor northern bog ecosystem. Ecology *Author contributions equal (attached)

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