Navigation Links
Pitcher plant uses rain drops to capture prey

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 today, Wednesday 13 June, in the journal PLoS ONE.

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!"

Contact: Genevieve Maul
University of Cambridge

Related biology news :

1. Pitcher plant uses power of the rain to trap prey
2. Bacterium signals plant to open up and let friends in
3. Evaluation of microscopy techniques may help scientists to better understand ancient plants
4. Scientists identify mechanism for regulating plant oil production
5. NYBG scientists identify 81 new plant and fungus species
6. How plants make cocaine
7. Parasitic plants steal genes from their hosts
8. Herbivores select on floral architecture in a South African bird-pollinated plant
9. Some factors that impact islet transplantation explored in Cell Transplantation papers
10. Some factors that impact islet transplantation explored in Cell Transplantation papers
11. New release of Web-based resource resolves confusion over plant names
Post Your Comments:
(Date:11/16/2015)... , Nov 16, 2015  Synaptics Inc. (NASDAQ: ... interface solutions, today announced expansion of its TDDI ... touch controller and display driver integration (TDDI) ... smartphones. These new TDDI products add to the ... resolution), TD4302 (WQHD resolution), and TD4322 (FHD resolution) ...
(Date:11/11/2015)...   MedNet Solutions , an innovative SaaS-based eClinical technology ... pleased to announce that it will be a Sponsor of ... to be held November 17-19 in Hamburg ... of iMedNet , MedNet,s easy-to-use, proven and ... has been able to deliver time and cost savings of ...
(Date:11/9/2015)... 9, 2015  Synaptics Inc. (NASDAQ: SYNA ), ... broader entry into the automotive market with a comprehensive ... pace of consumer electronics human interface innovation. Synaptics, industry-leading ... for the automotive industry and will be implemented in ... Europe , Japan , and ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:11/25/2015)... and HOLLISTON, Mass. , ... Inc. (Nasdaq: HART ), a biotechnology company developing ... CEO Jim McGorry will present at the ... 1, 2015 at 2:30 p.m. PT. The presentation will ... for 30 days. Management will also be available at ...
(Date:11/25/2015)... ... 25, 2015 , ... A long-standing partnership between the Academy ... been formalized with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding. , AMA Executive ... Karl Minter and Capt. Albert Glenn Tuesday, November 24, 2015, at AMA Headquarters ...
(Date:11/25/2015)... ... November 25, 2015 , ... ... were featured on AngelList early in their initial angel funding process. Now, they ... for individuals looking to make early stage investments in the microbiome space. ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... , Nov. 24, 2015 Cepheid (NASDAQ: ... be speaking at the following conference, and invited investors ... York, NY      Tuesday, December 1, 2015 at ... York, NY      Tuesday, December 1, 2015 at ... Healthcare Conference, New York, NY ...
Breaking Biology Technology: