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Carnivorous Conundrum

on January 29, 2011

Carnivorous plants may seem, at first, to be a puzzling challenge to creationists’ claim that there was no need for death in nature as God designed it.

On closer investigation, however, many of the plants reveal ways they can gain nutrition without preying on animals. For example, last year we reported on the giant montane pitcher plant, which had been rumored to swallow up animals as large as rat-sized tree shrews. Closer research showed no support for the rumors, and instead scientists found that the pitcher plants may gain most nutrients by collecting the excrement of tree shrews. Additionally, the researchers suggested certain other types of pitcher plants may gather nutriment from bat feces.

Bats make a home in the plants’ pitchers, gaining shelter in exchange for defecating in the plants.

A new study has confirmed that suggestion—and has gone a step farther. While rumors held that pitcher plants sometimes ate bats, the reality is that the bats make a home in the plants’ pitchers, gaining shelter in exchange for defecating in the plants.

A team led by Ulmar Grafe of the University of Brunei Darussalam investigated Nepenthes rafflesiana elongata pitchers, “consistently” finding Hardwicke’s woolly bats (Kerivoula hardwickii) inside. The bats roost above the pitchers’ digestive fluids, and the pitchers do not capture the bats, instead absorbing nutrients from bat excrement. The bats seek the pitchers because the insides are kept free of parasites.

It’s difficult, to say the least, for us to imagine exactly what God’s original, perfect creation would have been like. But the world around us does offer clues. Starting with Scripture, then proceeding through the lens of careful research, we can imagine a world in which what are now “carnivorous” plants subsist entirely by recycling the waste products of other animals—no death needed.*

On a related note, a new dermatological study provides evidence that the sap of a common weed can eliminate certain skin cancers. Is it another glimpse of the harmony in nature as God originally designed it?

*There is an ongoing discussion among young-earth creationists concerning whether insects (the usual prey of carnivorous plants) “die” in the same sense that humans and more advanced animals do. If not, the “carnivory” of such plants becomes less of a challenge to creationists.

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