This plant lurks underground to catch prey in a way we have never seen before

This plant lurks underground to catch prey in a way we have never seen before

We often think of plants as quiet, calm organisms that can not help but keep to themselves. But not all plants are harmless wall flowers.

Carnivorous plants, as the name implies, eat prey – mostly insects, but also small animalsand other nutrient-rich matter.

While the whole idea works vaguely nightmare-like at first these “ecologically unique” plants need our protection just like any other endangered organism; and we still find examples of these carnivores we’ve never even noticed it before.

In the latest discovery, researchers have now reported the identification of a previously unknown species of carnivorous plants, found on the island of Borneo in the Indonesian province of northern Kalimantan.

The newly named species, Nepenthes pudicais a kind pitcher plantbut it consumes its prey in a way that botanists have not registered before.

A buried shot with underground jugs. (Martin Dančák)

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

What do N. pudica different from its carnivorous counterparts is where and how it lays its pitcher-shaped trap for its unsuspecting victims.

Usually, pitcher plants produce these hollow, cupped tubes above the ground, either at the surface of the earth or in trees, with the slippery inner surface of the vessel making it difficult for all insects that migrate in to climb out again.

Once the insects are trapped in the bottom of the cavity, they drown and dissolve in a well with digestive juices, much like Boba Fett stuck inside Almighty Sarlacc (or so we used to assume).

N. pudica does not completely invent the wheel for pitcher plants, but it has changed the landscape somewhat.

At a field expedition in northern Kalimantan in 2012, researchers noticed Nepenthes plants that strangely enough did not appear to have any pitchers, and also observed one “deformed jug protruding from the ground”.

Subsequent investigations – involving pulling up a layer of moss that covered the ground – revealed many jugs hidden in the underground soil, which came from shoots grown into the ground, as if to specifically target insects living inside the dirt, rather than on top of it.

UndergroundPitcherPlants2A bunch of jugs buried in the ground. (Martin Dančák)

“This species places its up to 11 cm long [4.3-inch] underground jugs, where they are formed in cavities or directly in the ground and capture animals that live underground, usually ants, mites and beetles “, says Dančák.

While other carnivorous plants in different genera have been known to lay traps underground, this is the first time a species with a pitfall-like trap has been shown to do the same. In total, the team found and examined 17 such N. pudicamany of which showed signs of prey melting inside them.

Funny enough, for a plant predator that lays its trap underground, N. pudica otherwise lives the high life, discovered in a mountainous ridge-top region at an altitude of about 1,100–1,300 meters [about 3,600–4,300 ft] above sea level.

As it happens, the researchers believe that the conditions at altitude may be a factor behind why this partially underground pitcher plant is so prone.

“We assume that underground cavities have more stable environmental conditions, including humidity, and there are probably also more potential changes during dry periods.” says co-author of the study Michal Golos, a plant biomechanics researcher at the University of Bristol in the UK, and a lifelong pitcher plant enthusiastdevoted to collecting and studying the oddities since childhood.

Everyone gets stuck in something.

The findings are reported in PhytoKeys.

#plant #lurks #underground #catch #prey

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