Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Pitcher plant uses rain drops to capture prey

Date:
June 13, 2012
Source:
University of Cambridge
Summary:
During heavy rain, the lid of Nepenthes gracilis pitchers acts like a springboard, catapulting insects that seek shelter on its underside directly into the fluid-filled pitcher, new research has found.

This is an N. gracilis pitcher with a visiting Polyrhachis pruinosa ant.
Credit: From: Bauer U, Di Giusto B, Skepper J, Grafe TU, Federle W (2012) With a Flick of the Lid: A Novel Trapping Mechanism in Nepenthes gracilis Pitcher Plants. PLoS ONE 7(6): e38951. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0038951

During heavy rain, the lid of Nepenthes gracilis pitchers acts like a springboard, catapulting insects that seek shelter on its underside directly into the fluid-filled pitcher, new research has found. The findings were published June 13, in the journal PLoS ONE.

Related Articles


Pitcher plants (Nepenthes) rely on insects as a source of nutrients, enabling them to colonise nutrient-poor habitats where other plants struggle to grow. Prey is captured in specialised pitcher-shaped leaves with slippery surfaces on the upper rim and inner wall, and drowns in the digestive fluid at the bottom. Under humid conditions, the wettable pitcher rim is covered by a very thin, continuous film of water. If an insect tries to walk on the wet surface, its adhesive pads (the 'soles' of its feet) are prevented from making contact with the surface and instead slip on the water layer, similar to the 'aquaplaning' effect of a car tire on a wet road.

However, researchers have now discovered a new, unique method of capturing insects by the pitcher plant Nepenthes gracilis.

The lead author of the paper, Dr Ulrike Bauer from the University of Cambridge's Department of Plant Sciences, said: "It all started with the observation of a beetle seeking shelter under a N. gracilis lid during a tropical rainstorm. Instead of finding a safe -- and dry -- place to rest, the beetle ended up in the pitcher fluid, captured by the plant. We had observed ants crawling under the lid without difficulty many times before, so we assumed that the rain played a role, maybe causing the lid to vibrate and 'catapulting' the beetle into the trap, similar to the springboard at a swimming pool."

To test their hypothesis, the scientists simulated 'rain' with a hospital drip and recorded its effect on a captive colony of ants that was foraging on the nectar under the lid. They counted the number of ants that fell from the lid in relation to the total number of visitors. They found that ants were safe before and directly after the 'rain', but when the drip was switched on about 40% of the ants got trapped.

Further research revealed that the lower lid surface of the N. gracilis pitcher is covered with highly specialised wax crystals. This structure seems to provide just the right level of slipperiness to enable insects to walk on the surface under 'calm' conditions but lose their footing when the lid is disturbed (in most cases, by rain drops). The scientists also found that the lid of N. gracilis secretes larger amounts of attractive nectar than that of other pitcher plants, presumably to take advantage of this unique mechanism.

Dr Bauer added: "Scientists have tried to unravel the mysteries of these plants since the days of Charles Darwin. The fact that we keep discovering new trapping mechanisms in the 21st century makes me curious what other surprises these amazing plants might still have in store!"


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Cambridge. The original story is licensed under a Creative Commons license. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Ulrike Bauer, Bruno Di Giusto, Jeremy Skepper, T. Ulmar Grafe, Walter Federle. With a Flick of the Lid: A Novel Trapping Mechanism in Nepenthes gracilis Pitcher Plants. PLoS ONE, 2012; 7 (6): e38951 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0038951

Cite This Page:

University of Cambridge. "Pitcher plant uses rain drops to capture prey." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 June 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120613184007.htm>.
University of Cambridge. (2012, June 13). Pitcher plant uses rain drops to capture prey. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 18, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120613184007.htm
University of Cambridge. "Pitcher plant uses rain drops to capture prey." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120613184007.htm (accessed December 18, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Plants & Animals News

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Navy Unveils Robot Fish

Navy Unveils Robot Fish

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Dec. 18, 2014) The U.S. Navy unveils an underwater device that mimics the movement of a fish. Tara Cleary reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Kids Die While Under Protective Services

Kids Die While Under Protective Services

AP (Dec. 18, 2014) As part of a six-month investigation of child maltreatment deaths, the AP found that hundreds of deaths from horrific abuse and neglect could have been prevented. AP's Haven Daley reports. (Dec. 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
When You Lose Weight, This Is Where The Fat Goes

When You Lose Weight, This Is Where The Fat Goes

Newsy (Dec. 17, 2014) Can fat disappear into thin air? New research finds that during weight loss, over 80 percent of a person's fat molecules escape through the lungs. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
The Hottest Food Trends for 2015

The Hottest Food Trends for 2015

Buzz60 (Dec. 17, 2014) Urbanspoon predicts whicg food trends will dominate the culinary scene in 2015. Mara Montalbano (@maramontalbano) has the story. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins