The Venus fly-trap caused serious problems for the traditional theory of the Great Chain of Being. The idea of the Great Chain suggested that all of creation was arranged in a rigidly hierarchical system, with God at the top and all living and nonliving things descending below (for example):

GOD
ANGELS
SPIRITS
GHOSTS
HUMAN BEINGS
MAMMALS
BIRDS
REPTILES
AMPHIBIANS
FISH
INSECTS
PLANTS
MICROSCOPIC CREATURES
INANIMATE OBJECTS

 

The fly-trap clearly broke the chain, since it was a plant that could attract, capture, kill and digest insects, which were supposed to be higher on the scale. Like various species of mimosa, the fly-trap also possessed a form of sensation, supposedly only a property of animals.

 

“In the Dionaea muscipula there is a still more wonderful contrivance to prevent the depredations of insects; the leaves are armed with long teeth, like the antennae of insects, and lie spread upon the ground round the stem; and are so irritable, that when an insect creeps upon them, they fold up, and crush or pierce it to death” (Botanic Garden, “Loves of the Plants,” I, 19, illustration, above)

 

“Of vegetable animation”: “The fibres of the vegetable world, as well as those of the animal, are excitable into a variety of motions by irritations of external objects. This appears . . . [in] the Dionaea muscipula, which was lately brought over from the marshes of America” (Zoonomia, I, 73).

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