The carnivorous plant that traps prey is the first of its kind

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Scientists have discovered a carnivorous plant that grows prey-trapping gear underground, feeding on subterranean creatures like worms, larvae and beetles.

The new species of pitcher plant has been unearthed in the Indonesian province of North Kalimantan on the island of Borneo. Like other pitcher plants, Nepenthes pudica has modified leaves, called pitfalls or pitchers, into which its prey falls before being eaten. (One species is so large it can trap rats.)

No other species of pitcher plant known to science catches its prey underground.

The plant forms specialized underground shoots with small white leaves lacking chlorophyll, the researchers said. The pitchers are much larger than the leaves and have a reddish color.

« This species places its up to 11 cm long (4.3 inches long) underground pitchers, where they form in cavities or directly in the ground and trap animals living underground, usually ants, mites and beetles,” said lead study author Martin Dančák of Palacký University Olomouc, Czech Republic, in a press release.

Only three other groups of carnivorous plants are known to scavenge prey underground, but they all use very different scavenging mechanisms and, unlike Nepenthes pudica, can only catch tiny organisms, the researchers said.

“Interestingly, we found many organisms living inside the pitchers, including mosquito larvae, nematodes and a species of worm, which was also described as a new species,” Václav Čermák said. from Mendel University in Brno, Czech Republic, who was also part of the research team.

Luck played a role in his discovery. The scientists noticed plants on the mountain they were exploring that very closely resembled Nepenthes but did not produce pitchers. An early search showed a deformed jug protruding from the ground.

« At first we thought it was an accidentally buried pitcher and local environmental conditions caused the lack of other pitchers, » Ľuboš Majeský said. from the Palacký University of Olomouc, who was part of the research team.

« Yet, as we continued to find other pitcherless plants along the ascent to the summit, we wondered if a species of pitcher plant could have evolved into carnivorous loss, as seen in certain other carnivorous plants. »

But then, taking photos, Majeský said he tore a cushion of moss from the base of a tree; revealing a pile of pitchers with a rich brown hue.

This discovery is important for nature conservation in Indonesian Borneo, which is a biodiversity hotspot.

“We hope that the discovery of this unique carnivorous plant could help protect the rainforests of Borneo, especially preventing or at least slowing down the conversion of virgin forests to oil palm plantations,” said Wewin Tjiasmanto of the Indonesian conservation group Yayasan Konservasi Biota Lahan Basah in Surabaya, who helped discover the new species.

Research published in the journal PhytoKeys.

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