• The spoon-leaf sundew is an insectivore. Unable to obtain sufficient nutrients from the poor-quality soil in which it takes root, the plant traps insects, like this hapless fly.

    The "dew" of the sundew is actually mucilage. Mucilage is a thick, sticky substance secreted by some plants. The runny, sticky "juice" of the aloe vera plant, for instance, is mucilage.

    Mucilage collects on the sundew's tentacles. Tentacles are the thin stalks on the sundew's narrow leaves.

    Small insects step into the sweet-tasting mucilage and become stuck. Mucilage is not dangerously toxic—insects are not poisoned. Instead, the animals are either suffocated by the thick substance or die from exhaustion trying to escape.

    The sundew's leaves cannot absorb nutrients directly. So, after it has killed its victim, the plant slowly rolls the tiny carcass up to its stem. (That's what's happening in this photograph.) There, the stem releases digestive fluids. Nutrients from the insect are absorbed and the leaf unfurls its deadly, mucilaginous tentacles once again.

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  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    absorb Verb

    to soak up.

    carcass Noun

    dead body.

    dew Noun

    water droplets condensed from the atmosphere onto cool surfaces near the ground.

    Encyclopedic Entry: dew
    digestive fluid Noun

    natural secretions that help break down food as part of the digestion process.

    exhaustion Noun

    extreme weakness and fatigue.

    hapless Adjective

    unlucky.

    insectivore Noun

    organism that mostly eats insects.

    leaf Noun

    organ growing from the stem of a plant.

    mucilage Noun

    sticky, gel-like secretion of some plants.

    nutrient Noun

    substance an organism needs for energy, growth, and life.

    Encyclopedic Entry: nutrient
    root Noun

    part of a plant that secures it in the soil, obtains water and nutrients, and often stores food made by leaves.

    secrete Verb

    to discharge a substance.

    soil Noun

    top layer of the Earth's surface where plants can grow.

    stem Noun

    main stalk of a plant.

    sufficient Adjective

    enough or adequate.

    suffocate Verb

    to be unable to breathe.

    sundew Noun

    carnivorous plant with sticky hairs that trap insects.

    toxic Adjective

    poisonous.

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