Scientist Have Uncovered Feeding Mechanisms of Slender Pitcher Plant Using Rain

Plants have developed several strategies to help them survive and outcompete their neighbors in Borneo’s steamy rainforests.

Nepentes gracilisalso known as the slender pitcher plant, is one of the most inventive because its intricate cup-shaped leaves have a hanging lid that, when struck by a raindrop, transforms into a lethal launching pad.

Pitcher plant’s feeding mechanism using raindrops

(Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)


The research, which was just published in Biology Letters, described for the first time how the fatal spring functions, as per ScienceDaily.

The crew was shocked to discover that the spring is positioned deep within the tubular pitcher wall, rather than bending in the lid itself or the tight space between the pitcher cup and lid.

Two impacts result from the back of the tube’s off-center placement.

The spring is first made direction-dependent, which causes the lid to move readily downward but not upward.

The lid decelerates fast downward when a raindrop strikes it, flinging any insects on its underside into the liquid-filled trap below.

However, on the way up, the greater spring resistance slows the lid down, causing it to cease moving earlier and hasten the trap’s return to capture.

Second, the off-center spring maximizes the translation of impact energy into downward movement by preventing the lid from twisting or wobbling.

According to lead author Anne-Kristin Lenz of the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Bristol, “If you look at the pitcher shape, you would presume that the deflection happens at the smallest cross-section, referred to as the transitional stage from lid to pitcher tube, but in fact, it also deforms further down at the back of the pitcher tube.”

People can learn how to maximize frameworks geometrically, which might help to save material and weight even while having a functional spring from pitcher plant traps, which are lightweight but sturdy, and Nepentes gracilis uses minor changes in the trap shape to transmit impact energy with astounding efficiency.

The springboard trapping mechanism might even serve as inspiration for building innovative mechanical equipment for generating power from rain or hail.

Also Read: Western False Asphodel: New Type of Carnivorous Plant Discovered in 20 Years

Trap types and digestion

These plants catch people’s attention because of their ostentatious trapping mechanism, which is invariably a modified leaf, as per Britannica.

There are many different types of trapping devices, and depending on whether they move to seize prey, they are classified as active or passive.

One of the most popular forms of traps are the pitfall traps, which use a hollow, closed leaf filled with liquid to passively capture and digest prey, like those seen in pitcher plants.

To catch prey, flypaper traps can be active or passive and rely on mucilage that sticks to the surface of the leaf (butterworts) or to gland-tipped hairs (sundews).

Snap traps actively entangle insects via rapid leaf motions, like those of the Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula).

Only bladderwort plants from the genus Utricularia, have traps, which actively suck in tiny creatures bladder using a partial vacuum.

Lobster-pot traps use downward-pointing hairs to push animals further into the trap. They are most commonly seen on corkscrew plants from the genus Genlisea.

Carnivorous plants break down their food by a chemical process similar to mammalian digestion, using enzymes or bacteria.

The plants absorb the end products, especially salts and nitrogenous substances, to help them survive in environments that would otherwise be unfavorable or hostile.

The majority of carnivorous species are green plants that produce food by photosynthesis using carbon dioxide, water, and sunshine as their primary ingredients when chlorophyll is present.

Because of their environment’s low soil, they supplement their nutrition with meat.

Related article: Previously Unknown Species of Bizarre Carnivorous Pitcher Plant Found in Borneo

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