Ever seen a rat-eating plant?
I mentioned the other day (when discussing barcode genes) that we haven’t yet even found all plant species. Unknown to me, this brilliant example, a new species of pitcher plant, had been published back in February; it caught my attention today from the BBC’s Earth News website.
Pitcher plants specialise in trapping insects. The ‘pitchers’, which evolved from leaves, lure insects in, but have a slippery surface to stop them climbing out. They fall down to the bottom of the pitcher, where digestive fluids kill them, allowing the plant to absorb the nutrients.
Of course, if the pitcher’s big enough, the same idea works for small mammals or lizards too. And the new species is one of the biggest, with pitchers 30cm deep, big enough to catch things the size of rats. So, although there are only a few hundred of them on a mountainside in the Philippines, it’s a good illustration that it’s not only small, boring species that we’re still cataloguing. On the same trip, they discovered a new species of sundew (also carnivorous), and saw ferns and mushrooms that they didn’t recognise.
The new species’ latin name is Nepenthes attenboroughii, after Sir David Attenborough, who already has an echidna, an egg-laying mammal, named after him: Zaglossus attenboroughi.
- Paper (Botanical Journal of the Linnaean Society)
- BBC News article and slideshow of pitcher plants
- If you’re in Cambridge, the Botanic Garden has a greenhouse of carnivorous plants. It should still be there in the Autumn, too.
- Wikipedia page for Nepenthes attenboroughii