Scientists Discover Strange Carnivore Plant in Borneo that Traps its Prey Underground

Nepenthes pudica Photo by PřF UP / Palacky University

In the dark jungles of Borneo, a plant has adapted to an ecological niche that none of its kind or kingdom has ever entered before.

An international team led by Czech scientists confirmed that Nepenthus pudica is the first species of pitcher plant, or carnivorous plant in general for that matter, ever to be found laying traps under the soil.

Pitcher plants are a type of carnivorous plant that grow mainly in Southeast Asia. These climbing vines create ingenious traps for insects at the end of the leaves in the form of jugs with liquid, which are usually strikingly colored. 

Because of this, pitcher plants became popular, and in Europe these ornamental plants have been cultivated since the end of the 18th century. People can usually see them in greenhouses or in hobby markets.

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“We have managed to discover a pitcher plant that behaves completely differently from all other known species,” said Martin Dančák from the Department of Ecology and the Environment of Palacky University.

“The newly discovered species placed its up to eleven centimeter traps underground. In cavities or directly in the soil, this little bug catches underground animals. Invertebrates, especially ants, various mites and beetles end up in its traps.”

In addition to above-ground shoots, this species also produces short underground stems, which usually grow into a cavity, in which it then produces leaves and the deadly pitchers. Containing a sweet liquid, the pitchers attract invertebrates inside, after which they can’t get out because the liquid is sticky, and the inside of the pitcher slick.

According to scientists, the carnivore hides its traps underground, apparently because narrow mountain ridges on which they grow can dry out relatively quickly. In the underground cavities, on the other hand, it is humid and teeming with food.

The scientists first found them hidden in a dark cavity under a tree.

“After that, we looked at more similar trees, near which the little ones were growing. We found out that this species of weevil actually directs its shoots underground and creates traps in the cavity on purpose,” explained Ľuboš Majeský.

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Scientists assume that such a remarkable species of carnivore could help to protect the local forests. 

“This finding is significant for nature conservation in Indonesia, underscoring the importance of Borneo’s tropical rainforests and their extraordinary biodiversity,” added Wewin Tjiasmanto, another participant of the expedition from the Indonesian Center for the Protection of Wetland Biotopes.

“We hope that the discovery of this new carnivorous plant will help preserve the character of the local landscape and stop or slow down the further conversion of forests to oil palm plantations.”

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