This Plant Lurks Underground to Trap Prey in a Way We've Never Seen Before

Plants are frequently seen as calm, subdued creatures who can't help but stay to themselves. But not all plants are benign weeds.

As its name implies, carnivorous plants consume a variety of nutrient-rich food, primarily insects but sometimes tiny animals and other living things.

Although the concept initially appears a little terrifying, these "ecologically unique" plants need our protection just like any other endangered species does. Furthermore, we continue to discover examples of these predators that we had never ever heard of.

In the most recent of these discoveries, researchers have identified a species of carnivorous plant that was discovered in Borneo in the Indonesian region of North Kalimantan.

Although Nepenthes pudica is a kind of pitcher plant, it eats its food in a way that botanists have never before observed.

"We found a pitcher plant which differs markedly from all the other known species," according to botanist Martin Danák of Palack University Olomouc in the Czech Republic.

Where and how N. pudica places its pitcher-shaped trap for its unwary prey sets it apart from other carnivorous species.

The hollow, cupped tubes that pitcher plants often grow above ground, either in trees or at the soil's surface, are slick on the inside, making it difficult for stray insects to crawl back out.

Similar to Boba Fett imprisoned inside the enormous Sarlacc, the insects drown and disintegrate once they are at the bottom of the cavity (or so we used to presume).

For pitcher plants, N. pudica doesn't entirely reinvent the wheel, but it has somewhat altered the landscape.

Researchers saw Nepenthes plants that oddly didn't appear to have any pitchers during a field trip in North Kalimantan in 2012, and they also saw a "deformed pitcher protruding from the soil".

Following investigations, which involved removing a layer of moss from the ground, it was discovered that there were several pitchers concealed in the soil below, emerging from shoots that had been developed into the earth, as if to target only bugs that live beneath the dirt rather than on top of it.

"This species places its up-to–11-cm-long [4.3-inch] pitchers underground, where they are formed in cavities or directly in the soil and trap animals living underground, usually ants, mites, and beetles", according to Dančák.

This is the first instance of a species with a pitfall-like trap being found to set traps underground, while other carnivorous plants from various genera have been known to do so. The scientists discovered and evaluated 17 such N. pudica in total, and several of them had indications of internal prey digestion.

Funny enough, N. pudica, a plant predator that buries its traps, otherwise has a posh existence. It was found on a mountain ridgetop at an altitude of around 1,100-1,300 meters [approximately 3,600-4,300 ft] above sea level.

In fact, the researchers believe that this partly underground pitcher plant's propensity may be influenced by the environment at altitude.

"We hypothesize that underground cavities have more stable environmental conditions, including humidity, and there is presumably also more potential prey during dry periods," says Michal Golos, co-author of the study and a lifelong pitcher plant enthusiast who has been collecting and researching the unusual plants since he was a young child.

Everybody gets trapped by something.

The findings are reported in PhytoKeys.