Carnivorous Plants Are Getting Bigger and Hungrier

“As a refined Victorian gentleman, Charles Darwin naturally gravitated toward the macabre, and few things fascinated him like those floral flouters of the conventional food chain: carnivorous plants.” N. Angier, The New York Times

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key

You tube clip: Watch as a Venus Flytrap plant devours an insect. By Francis Quinn

Excerpt:  Plants That Are Predators  By Natalie Angier, NYT

He compared the glistening and gothically tentacled sundew plant, or Drosera, to a most sagacious animal and said, I will stick up for Drosera to the day of my death.To which a sagacious sundew might well have replied, Thanks, but I’ll take a damselfly instead.

Venus flytrap. Credit Jay Dawson NYT

Venus flytrap. Credit Jay Dawson NYT

As a bounty of new research reveals, biologists are still sticking up for carnivorous plants, and still unearthing surprising details about the anatomy, evolution, biochemistry and hunting tactics of the green flesh-eaters. 

Plants that eat insects and even animals. Photo- acidcow

The Pitcher plant eats insects and animals. Photo- acidcow

One group lately has determined that a Pitcher plant in Borneo supplements its insectivorous diet with regular helpings of bat guano, attracting the bats to roost — and void — in its slender goblet of a modified leaf by tuning its shape to precisely match the bats’ echolocating calls…Carnivorous plants, the researchers argue, gained the power to pulverize and absorb their insect prey by repurposing the defensive chemicals that ordinary plants use to deter herbivorous insects, effectively pounding shields into swords.

Drosera magnifica.

Drosera magnifica.

Paulo Minatel Gonella of the University of São Paulo in Brazil and his colleagues recently reported in the journal Phytotaxa that they had identified a spectacular new species of sundewAfter seeing photographs of the plant posted by an amateur naturalist…the researchers traveled to the specified location, on a lone mountain in southeastern Brazil, and confirmed the sundew was new to science.

Man-eating plant Audrey II in film Little Shop of Horrors. Dailymail

Man-eating plant Audrey II in film Little Shop of Horrors. Dailymail

With stems reaching five feet long, Drosera magnifica practically qualifies for a turn on Little Shop of Horrors and is the largest sundew species in the Americas. With the bulk of its rosy, sticky tentacles enfolding trapped prey, the sundew stalks resemble nothing so much as giant insect kebabs.”

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

Level: Intermediate – Advanced

Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.

Time: Approximately 2 hours.

Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.

Objective: Students will read and discuss the article
with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.

I. Pre-Reading Activities

 Predictions: Analyzing headings and photos

Directions:  Have students  examine the titles of the post and of the actual article. After they examine the photos, ask students to create a list of  words and  ideas  that they think might be related to this article. 

II. While Reading Tasks

Word Inference

Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.

  1. He compared sundew plant, or Drosera, to a sagacious animal.
  2. New research reveals biologists are still sticking up for carnivorous plants.
  3. They are still unearthing surprising details about the anatomy.
  4. The Pitcher plant in Borneo supplements its diet with regular helpings of bat guano.
  5. The plant tunes  its shape to precisely match the bats’ echolocating calls.
  6. Another team has nearly decoded the complete DNA sequence of the Venus flytrap.
  7. It is virtually the same size as the human genome.
  8. Scientists have  seen hints that at some point  plants may have imported insect prey nerve-related genes.
  9. This allows the plant’s trapping mechanism to shut faster.
  10. The sundew stalks resemble nothing so much as giant insect kebabs.

Reading Comprehension


Directions: Place students in groups and after they have read the entire article, have them complete the following paragraphs taken from the article. They can use the words and terms from the list provided, or provide their own terms. They are to find the meanings of any new vocabulary.

“In ___that are ___and moist but nutrient-poor, the capture of___can give ___a real competitive advantage,” said Thomas Givnish, a professor of ___at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Carnivorous plants ___in open bogs; in damp, fire-swept sand; by roadside puddles; in the leached ___of a mountainside — bright, sodden ___where competitors are negligible, the ___gullible, and nutrients alone limit plant growth.”

Word List:  spots,prey, sunny, mud, insects, environments, botany,  plants, thrive,

 Grammar Focus

Preposition Exercise

Directions: The following sentences are from the news article.  For each sentence choose the correct preposition from the choices listed above. Note that not all prepositions listed are in the article.

Prepositions:  in, for, of, with, by,  on, at, to, as, into, across, around, over,  through, from, during, up, off, about,

  1. A bounty___ new research reveals new information.
  2. The plant holds water___ its slender goblet of a leaf.
  3. The researchers traveled___ the specified location,___ a lone mountain ___ southeastern Brazil.
  4. Industry could learn a lot___how___make enzymes more tolerant___ extreme conditions simply___studying the Venus flytrap.

III. Post Reading Tasks

WH-How Questions

Directions: Have students use the  WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.

Who or What is the article about?

Where does the action/event take place?

When does the action/event take place?

Why did the action/event occur?

How did the action/event occur?

Discussion/Writing Exercise

Directions: Place students in groups and have them answer the following questions. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the following discussion topics.

The following  statements were taken from the article. Rephrase each statement in your own words, then discuss the meaning with the members of your group.

“Researchers see in carnivorous plants a model for exploring a range of important questions, including how organisms adapt to extreme adversity and scarcity, and how sessile beings with neither muscles nor brains can outmaneuver mobile beings with both.”

“Carnivorous plants may yield practical spinoffs… a number of enzymes in carnivorous plants remained exceptionally stable under conditions of high heat and blistering acidity that demolished most garden-variety enzymes.Industry could learn a lot about how to make enzymes more tolerant to extreme conditions simply by studying the Venus flytrap.”


Directions: Allow students 5 minutes to write down three new ideas they’ve learned about carnivore plants from the reading,  two things they did not understand in the reading, and one thing they would like to know that the article did not mention. Review the responses as a class.


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