Archives of Ask A Scientist!
About "Ask A Scientist!"
On September 17th, 1998 the Ithaca Journal ran its first "Ask A Scientist!" article in which Professor Neil Ashcroft , who was then the director of CCMR, answered the question "What is Jupiter made of?" Since then, we have received over 1,000 questions from students and adults from all over the world. Select questions are answered weekly and published in the Ithaca Journal and on our web site. "Ask A Scientist!" reaches more than 21,000 Central New York residents through the Ithaca Journal and countless others around the world throught the "Ask a Scientist!" web site.
Across disciplines and across the state, from Nobel Prize winning scientist David Lee to notable science education advocate Bill Nye, researchers and scientists have been called on to respond to these questions. For more than seven years, kids - and a few adults - have been submitting their queries to find out the answer to life's everyday questions.
Producers are most commonly organisms, plants and algae that use photosynthesis to convert simple compounds like carbon dioxide and water into the "stuff of life" such as carbohydrates and proteins. Consumers are incapable of this conversion magic; they must obtain their food by eating plants or animals that exist by eating plants. In this sense, the answer to your question seems clear - the Venus flytrap is both a producer and a consumer. As a plant, it produces its body by doing photosynthesis, but it can also supplement its growth by consuming meat. Let's consider this balance between producer and consumer in a bit more detail. Specifically, since it already has the ability to do photosynthesis, what benefit does a Venus flytrap obtain from its carnivorous lifestyle?
One way to approach this question is to look at the natural habitat of the Venus flytrap and its carnivorous relatives. Carnivorous plants are most commonly found in bogs - places where water and sun tend to be plentiful but soil nutrients are scarce. In order to grow, plants need sunlight, water and carbon dioxide, but they also need soil nutrients as sources of nitrogen, phosphorus, iron and other trace compounds for their growth. If these nutrients are in short supply, like in bogs, plant growth is limited.
Carnivorous plants have evolved a way to supplement the meager supply of nutrients available in bog soils by capturing insects and other small prey. In reality, the vast majority of the materials (atoms?) that make up the body of a carnivorous plant are derived from photosynthesis with only small amounts coming from the insects that the plant digested. At the same time, the acquisition of extra nutrients through its carnivorous lifestyle permits the flytrap to carry out significantly more photosynthetic growth than its non-carnivorous neighbors. This permits the flytrap to successfully compete in a habitat where its growth would otherwise be limited. Thus the flytrap is first and foremost a producer, but it can increase its photosynthetic growth through the nutrients it obtains from the prey it captures.
- I would like to know why is it that most people like to finish off a meal with something sweet? Or is it just natural to balance savory and sweet? If so, why not the other way around? Is it purely from the gastronomic angle or that's the way our senses and palate are built?
- Why has no one been able to cultivate truffles? What separates them from other fungi?
- When a hermit crab leaves its shell that is too small, does it wander around without a shell until it finds another one, or does it go around with its shell till it finds a bigger empty one?
- Will your skin change color if you eat enough of a colorful food? (For example, if you eat a lot of carrots, will your skin turn orange?)
- What is the evolutionary reason for abstract thought, art and expression?
- What further advances have scientists at Cornell made in the study of GMO's?
- How are spiders different from insects? How many species of spiders are there? How many different silks are there?
- What is it about the human eye that limits the types of wavelengths in the electromagnetic spectrum that can be seen as visible light? Why are other animals capable of interpreting infrared waves as well?
- We've heard that bats can glide but not soar, and we've also heard that they can't glide or soar... only fly by flapping. Can you clear this up for us? (We're asking because, in the summertime when we look up, we're not always sure whether we're seeing are swallows or bats at dusk, and this would help.)
- Why is it possible for some animals to hear certain frequency pitches of sound and why others can't. What is different about their ears?