Meet Nepenthes pudica, Carnivorous Plant that Produces Underground Traps

by johnsmith

Nepenthes pudica, a new species of pitcher plant from the lower montane rainforests of North Kalimantan, Indonesia, produces well-developed, fully functional and effective underground traps — a strategy as yet unknown in any species of carnivorous plant with pitfall traps.

Lower pitchers of Nepenthes pudica under a moss mat. Image credit: Dančák et al., doi: 10.3897/phytokeys.201.82872.

Lower pitchers of Nepenthes pudica under a moss mat. Image credit: Dančák et al., doi: 10.3897/phytokeys.201.82872.

Nepenthes is a genus of more than 160 species of carnivorous plants in the family Nepenthaceae.

These plants are primarily distributed in tropical and subtropical Southeast Asia, with centers of diversity in Borneo, Sumatra, and the Philippines.

A small number of species occur in outlying areas, including Madagascar, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, northeastern India, southern China, northeastern Australia, and various islands of the western Pacific Ocean.

“We found a pitcher plant which differs markedly from all the other known species,” said Dr. Martin Dančák, a researcher at Palacký University.

“In fact, this species places its up-to-11-cm-long pitchers underground, where they are formed in cavities or directly in the soil and trap animals living underground, usually ants, mites and beetles.”

Nepenthes pudica is the first carnivorous species confirmed to use pitfall traps specifically in the subterranean environment.

It produces almost exclusively underground pitchers that are well developed and fully functional.

“Nepenthes pudica grows on relatively dry ridge tops at an elevation of 1,100-1,300 m. This might be why it evolved to move its traps underground,” said Dr. Michal Golos, a researcher at the University of Bristol.

“We hypothesize that underground cavities have more stable environmental conditions, including humidity, and there is presumably also more potential prey during dry periods.”

Nepenthes pudica is predominantly an ant specialist, as are the majority of Nepenthes species.

“Interestingly, we found numerous organisms living inside the pitchers, including mosquito larvae, nematodes and a species of worm which was also described as a new species,” said Dr. Václav Čermák, a researcher at the Mendel University.

Nepenthes pudica is endemic to Borneo and known only from a few adjoining localities in the western part of the Mentarang Hulu district of Indonesian province of North Kalimantan.

Due to its restricted distribution, small population size and possible habitat loss, the species qualifies to be assigned preliminary conservation status as Critically Endangered based on the IUCN Red List categories and criteria.

“This discovery is important for nature conservation in Indonesian Borneo, as it emphasizes its significance as a world biodiversity hotspot,” said Wewin Tjiasmanto, a researcher at the Yayasan Konservasi Biota Lahan Basah.

“We hope that the discovery of this unique carnivorous plant might help protect Bornean rainforests, especially prevent or at least slow the conversion of pristine forests into oil palm plantations.”

The discovery of Nepenthes pudica is reported in a paper published this month in the journal PhytoKeys.


M. Dančák et al. 2022. First record of functional underground traps in a pitcher plant: Nepenthes pudica (Nepenthaceae), a new species from North Kalimantan, Borneo. PhytoKeys 201: 77-97; doi: 10.3897/phytokeys.201.82872

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