Fluorescent prey traps in carnivorous plants

Plant Biol (Stuttg). 2013 May;15(3):611-5. doi: 10.1111/j.1438-8677.2012.00709.x.


Carnivorous plants acquire most of their nutrients by capturing ants, insects and other arthropods through their leaf-evolved biological traps. So far, the best-known attractants in carnivorous prey traps are nectar, colour and olfactory cues. Here, fresh prey traps of 14 Nepenthes, five Sarracenia, five Drosera, two Pinguicula species/hybrids, Dionaea muscipula and Utricularia stellaris were scanned at UV 366 nm. Fluorescence emissions of major isolates of fresh Nepenthes khasiana pitcher peristomes were recorded at an excitation wavelength of 366 nm. N. khasiana field pitcher peristomes were masked by its slippery zone extract, and prey capture rates were compared with control pitchers. We found the existence of distinct blue fluorescence emissions at the capture spots of Nepenthes, Sarracenia and Dionaea prey traps at UV 366 nm. These alluring blue emissions gradually developed with the growth of the prey traps and diminished towards their death. On excitation at 366 nm, N. khasiana peristome 3:1 CHCl3–MeOH extract and its two major blue bands showed strong fluorescence emissions at 430–480 nm. Masking of blue emissions on peristomes drastically reduced prey capture in N. khasiana pitchers. We propose these molecular emissions as a critical factor attracting arthropods and other visitors to these carnivorous traps. Drosera, Pinguicula and Utricularia prey traps showed only red chlorophyll emissions at 366 nm.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carnivory*
  • Chitin / metabolism
  • Chlorophyll
  • Drosera / physiology
  • Droseraceae / physiology
  • Fluorescence
  • Magnoliopsida / chemistry*
  • Magnoliopsida / physiology*
  • Predatory Behavior
  • Sarraceniaceae / physiology
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry / methods
  • Ultraviolet Rays


  • Chitin
  • Chlorophyll