Scientists have discovered a carnivorous plant that grows prey-trapping contraptions underground, feeding off subterranean creatures such as worms, larvae and beetles.
The newly found species of pitcher plant was unearthed in the Indonesian province of North Kalimantan, on the island of Borneo. Like other pitcher plants, Nepenthes pudica has modified leaves, known as pitfall traps or pitchers, that its prey fall into before being consumed. (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, chlorophyll-free leaves, 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-inch-long) pitchers underground, where they are formed in cavities or directly in the soil and trap animals living underground, usually ants, mites and beetles,” said lead study author Martin Dančák of Palacký University Olomouc, Czech Republic, in a news release.
Only three other groups of carnivorous plants are known to trap underground prey, but they all use very different trapping mechanisms and, unlike Nepenthes pudica, can catch only minuscule organisms, the researchers said.