Deadly Aroma

Plant predator's secret weapon is a perfume with a punch.

Pitcher plants supplement their diets by eating flesh. Usually found growing in relatively poor soil, the plants sprout pitcher-shaped cups with frilly tops that obscure their true purpose : Trapping insects.

Look inside the pitchers and you'll find the half-digested bodies of the plants victims.

While studies have suggested that the plants' colors and its nectar may attract prey, some scientists have thought pitchers' scents may also be a factor.

And in a new study, a research team has identified odor molecules emanating from four types of pitcher plants and found that the scents seemed to be correlated with the kinds of insects that wound up in their pitchers.

Research had found earlier that pitchers emitting more volatile compounds tended to attract more flies, but rigorous examinations of what exactly pitchers release and whether it's connected to the insects they attract had been missing.

The new study found that pitchers with aromas heavy on fragrant substances that are known to attract pollinators seemed to catch more moths and bees, while those emitting more fatty acids ended up with more flies and ants. [Veronique Greenwood].


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