Fossilized remains of an ancient carnivorous plant have been unearthed by German researchers in Russia. Two leaves from a member of the plant family, Roridulaceae, were trapped in amber 35 million years ago. The leaves have the characteristic hairs of a carnivorous plant such as a sundew or venus fly-trap. Carnivorous plants are plants that have adapted to living in nutrient poor locations,
|The carnivorous sundew plant. (Photo: Orin Optiglot)|
This fossil was an incredible find, as plants are rarely found preserved in amber, and this group of plants is generally found in South Africa. Researchers now believe that these plants were most likely more widespread than they are now. Roridulaceae was thought to have been isolated on the continent of Africa after the Gondwana supercontinent broke apart around 180 million years ago. Perhaps this was not entirely the case. Although the specimen is beautifully preserved, it is hard to know what the plant looked like, or to truly understand its behavior. We can assume that it operated similarly to its more modern relatives. Roridulaceae is an interesting group of carnivorous plants because individuals depend on a symbiotic relationship with another insect to digest their "prey".
Although just a sliver of botanical history, the fossil does help to inform us of what the Baltic forest may have been like during the Eocene epoch. We know that carnivorous plants can grow in areas that are nutrient-poor, but this is only one piece of a larger puzzle. Maybe this fossil discovery will make way for others that help us paint a more accurate prehistoric picture.
- Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences "Carnivorous Leaves from Baltic Amber"(Full Text)
- New Scientist: "First carnivorous-plant fossil is 40 million years old"
- United Press International: "Baltic amber contains prehistoric fossil of carnivorous plant"
Fossil and Carnivorous Plant Adaptation Resources:
- BBC Nature: Prehistoric Life-Amber (videos)
- BrainPop Educators: "Carnivorous Plants" (Need Subscription or Free Trial for some resources)
- Fossils in Amber (Scroll down to Science Lesson Extensions)
- Fossils for Kids- Amber (Lots of images)
- "Food Grab" Outdoor Lesson Plan
- Fruit Fly Traps, Bill Nye: "A Slice of Apple Fly"
- "Living Life as a Plant" PBS Media Lesson Plan