Life on Other Planets from a Biological Perspective: Sensate Forms (Venus Fly Trap)

About the biological perspective of life on other planets taking into account the forms life takes, consider the Venus Fly Trap and other sensate forms.

Life on Other Planets: Another View

We might also look around us for almost alien life here on earth--life forms whose relatively bizarre ways of life are close to the borderland of "life as we do not know it."

Energy eaters. On earth, animals feed exclusively on matter. Plants, however, "feed" (if taking in a substance can be called feeding) half on matter and half on energy in the form of sunlight converted by photosynthesis. Why not life forms that feed exclusively on energy?

Sensate plants. Several plants, the best-known being Venus's-flytrap (Dionaea muscipula), trap and digest insects. The existence of these plants has long delighted purveyors of imaginary monsters that imperil nubile maidens. But, from an exobiological standpoint, the plants are intriguing not merely because of what they do but why they do it. When a fly is captured in the Venus's-flytrap or when an insect drowns in the pitcherlike leaves of a pitcher plant, such as Sarracenia purpurea, the victim brings protein to the plant. The proteins of the digested insect may be vitally necessary to the plant because they provide the plant with nitrogen not available (or in short supply) in the soil in which it grows. Insectivorous plants are rare on earth because nitrogen is plentiful. In an environment with even a slightly different biochemical cycle, would life develop animal-eating plants in greater abundance?

Is there an intimation of higher life possibilities in the Venus's-flytrap? Most biologists would certainly say No! The Jesuit biologist-paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was often criticized for his mystical theory that life was evolving toward an ultimate immate rialness. But there is little mysticism in his question about plants like the Venus's-flytrap: "Is it not enough to see how certain plants trap insects to be convinced that the vegetable branch, distant as it is, is . . . subservient to the rise of consciousness?"

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