Plant hides underground to catch prey in a way never seen before

(ORDO NEWS) — We often think of plants as calm, serene organisms that can’t help but keep a low profile. But not all plants are harmless flowers.

Carnivorous plants, as the name suggests, eat prey – mostly beetles, but also small animals and other nutrient-rich materials.

While the whole idea seems nightmarish at first, these “ecologically unique” plants need our protection just like any other endangered organism; and we still find examples of these carnivorous plants that were previously ignored.

In the latest such discovery, scientists reported the identification of a previously unknown species of carnivorous plant found on the island of Borneo in the Indonesian province of North Kalimantan.

A newly named species, Nepenthes pudica, is a species of carnivorous plant, but it consumes its prey in a way that botanists have not previously recorded.

“We found a water lily plant that is markedly different from all other known species,” says botanist Martin Danczak from Palacký Olomouc University in the Czech Republic.

N. pudica differs from its carnivorous cousins ​​in where and how it sets its pitcher-shaped traps for unsuspecting prey.

Typically, carnivorous plants produce these hollow, pitcher-like tubes above ground, either on the surface of the soil or on trees, the slippery interior of the vessel making it difficult for insects that have climbed inside to climb back out.

Once at the bottom of the cavity, the insects drown and dissolve in digestive juices, like Boba Fett stuck inside the all-powerful Sarlacc (or so we thought before).

N. pudica doesn’t completely reinvent the wheel for carnivorous plants, but it has changed the scenery somewhat.

During a field expedition in North Kalimantan in 2012, researchers noticed Nepenthes plants that, oddly enough, did not have water lilies, and also noticed “a deformed water lily sticking out of the soil.”

Subsequent research, which lifted the layer of moss covering the ground, revealed many water lilies hidden in the underground soil, emerging from shoots growing in the ground, as if specifically to hit beetles that live inside the mud, and not on its surface. .

“This species places its water lilies, up to 11 cm (4.3 inches) long, underground, where they form in cavities or directly in the soil and trap underground animals, usually ants, mites and beetles,” Danczak says.

While other carnivorous plants from various genera are known to set traps underground, this is the first time a species has been found with a pit-like trap. In total, the team found and examined 17 of these N. pudica, many of which showed signs of digestion of prey inside them.

Ironically, for a plant predator that sets its traps underground, N. pudica otherwise lives in grand style, being found in a mountainous region on a ridge top at an altitude of about 1100-1300 meters [about 3600-4300 feet] above sea level.

The researchers believe conditions at altitude may be one factor explaining why this partially underground carnivorous plant has taken root so well.

“We hypothesize that underground cavities have more stable environmental conditions, including humidity, and presumably also more potential prey during dry periods,” says study co-author Michal Golos, a plant biomechanics researcher at the University of Bristol in the UK and a lifelong insectivorous enthusiast. plants, who from childhood devoted himself to collecting and studying these curiosities.

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