The silent killer plants that lurk in our bogs

As more people become aware of the treasures our bogs hold, their attention is being drawn to unusual plants which decorate the peatlands.

The Irish Peatland Conservation Council has welcomed funding of €28,500 from the Heritage Council to make their bogs more open to people as well as being more wildlife-friendly.

While heather provides vital cover, beautiful, silent killer plants also lurk in the bog, making it a perilous place for every breed of insect, of which there are many. Such plants prey on the insect world, killing and eating every insect they can.

The council says these carnivores are unique as they attract, trap and derive benefit from digesting their prey.

“With colourful, fluid-filled leaves, pungent scents, glistening glue or grasping tentacles, they lure their victims to a nasty end. If you’re an insect, ranging in size from a tiny water flea to a damselfly, crossing a bog or swimming in a pool can literally be a matter of life or death,’’ it says.

They lie among mosses and heathers, or floating in shallow pools, awaiting their
next victims — ‘passive murderers’ called sundews, butterworts and bladderworts. They rely not on strength to catch their prey, but on the lure of beauty and desire.

“These are carnivorous plants, a specialised group adapted to growing in nutrient poor environments. After securing their prey with the strongest glues and fastest vacuums in the natural world, they obtain nutrients from a diet of insect flesh and juices.’’

Ten native species grow wild in Ireland, along with the introduced pitcher plant.

Sundews have spoon-shaped leaves covered with up to 200 pin-shaped red tentacles
which respond to touch. Insects may mistake the glistening leaves for nectar or be caught because they blunder onto the leaves.

On average, a sundew plant traps up to five insects a month. The prey includes small flies, midges, beetles and ants, although larger prey such as damselflies can also become trapped by several leaves at the same time.

The plants benefit by absorbing mineral nutrients from their prey, especially nitrogen and phosphorus which are in short supply in bogs.

Butterworts — so called because of the greasy, butter-like feel of their leaves — are found in the uplands of Cork and Kerry.

Insects walk or fly onto the leaves, which roll at their edges to prevent escape, and butterworts have the strongest natural glues.

Bladderworts live in pools and streams; rootless, free-floating and trapping and sucking in
insects at speeds of 1/15,000th of a second.

Heritage Council funding, meanwhile, will help restore bog habitats for wildlife, including curlew and butterflies, in counties Kildare, Kerry and Meath. All part of saving what remains of our peatlands.

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