This Plant Travels Underground to Trap Prey in a Way We've Never Seemed Before

This Plant Travels Underground to Trap Prey in a Way We've Never Seemed Before ...

Plants are often referred to as solitary, calm organisms that can't help but remain content. However, not all plants are harmless wallflowers.

Carnivorous plants, as the name suggests, consume prey mostly insects, but also small animals, and other nutrient-rich matter.

Although the whole concept may seem a bit nightmarishat at first, these "ecologically unique" plants require our assistance just like any other threatened organism; and we're still discovering examples of these carnivores we've never encountered before.

Scientists have now discovered a previously unknown carnivorous plant species on the Indonesian island of Borneo in North Kalimantan.

Nepenthes pudica, a newly named plant, is a sort of pitcher plant, but it consumes its prey in a manner that botanists have not previously encountered.

A buried fire with underground pitchers. (Martin Dancak)

"We discovered a pitcher plant that is significantly different from all the other known species," says botanist Martin Dancak of the Palacky University Olomouc in the Czech Republic.

What makes N. pudica different from its carnivorous counterparts is where and how it traps its undead victims in a pitcher-shaped trap.

pitcher plants produce these hollow, cupped tubes above ground, either at the soil surface or in trees, with the inner surface of the receptacle making it difficult for any insects to climb back out.

The insects then drown and disintegrate in a slurry of digestive juices, almost like Boba Fett stuck inside the almighty Sarlacc (or so we used to assume).

N. pudica does not reinvent the wheel for pitcher plants completely, but it has altered the landscape in some ways.

Researchers observed Nepenthes plants that appeared to have no pitchers on a field trip in North Kalimantan in 2012, as well as a "deformed pitcher" protruding from the soil.

Several pitchers were discovered hidden in the underground soil, coming off shoots planted into the ground, as if to target insects that dwell inside the dirt rather than on top of it.

A couple of pitchers are buried in the soil. (Martin Dancak)

"This species traps its up-to 11-inch [4.3-inch] pitchers underground, where they are formed in cavities or directly in the soil, trapping animals underground, usually ants, mites, and beetles," Dancak says.

The first time a species with a pitfall-like trap has been discovered to do the same, N. pudica, which many showed signs of prey being digested inside them.

N. pudica, a plant predator that hides its eggs underground, lives the high life, according to a mountainous ridge-top area at an elevation of 1,1001,300 meters [about 3,6004,300 ft] above sea level.

The researchers believe that the circumstances at altitude may be to blame for this partly subterranean pitcher plant's inclination.

"We hypothesize that underground cavities have better environmental conditions, including humidity, and there is presumably also more potential prey during dry periods," says Michal Golos, a plant biomechanics researcher at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, who has been collecting and studying oddities since childhood.

Everybody gets caught in something.

The results are reported in PhytoKeys.

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