Nov 16

I never thought I’d be one to get all excited about plants, but when Fauna & Flora International (FFI) this week released news of a new species of carnivorous pitcher plant, Nepenthes holdenii, in Cambodia’s remote Cardamom Mountains, I decided to challenge many people’s preconceptions that plants are boring, and delve into the world of these meat-eating wonders.                                                                                  

Carnivorous plants use trapping mechanisms to catch their unfortunate prey – typically unsuspecting insects that fall foul of the plants ingenious capture methods. I searched ARKive to find out more about the ways in which some of these highly unusual species get hold of their next meal…

Pitfall traps

The pitfall traps of tropical pitcher plants, sometimes known as ‘monkey cups’, have modified leaves which create enormous flasks, filled with liquid. The waxy surface inside the pitchers ensure that any insects lured to these plants cannot grip the surface, causing them to tumble to an untimely demise in the pool of liquid below. In most pitcher plants, such as Nepenthes rajah, enzymes or bacteria will dissolve and digest the body of the ill-fated prey.

Nepenthes rajah

The gigantic pitcher of Nepenthes rajah is said to capture rats, frogs and lizards as well as insects.

Flypaper traps

Covered in numerous mucilage-secreting glands, the leaves of flypaper trap species, such as the common butterwort, are coated in sticky fluid. Insects landing on the leaves become stuck to the surface, and the plants respond by growing quickly, often by curling or rolling the leaf inwards to trap and digest the prey. Some species have secreting glands at the ends of long, mobile tentacles which grow with exceptional speed to aid the trapping process.

Common butterwort

By secreting a glue-like substance over its leaves, the common butterwort ensures that insect prey meets a sticky end.

Snap traps

In snap traps, small hairs found on the surface of the open leaves act as triggers when touched, causing the trap to snap shut at the hinge and pin the prey between the two spiny leaf lobes. The Venus flytrap, famed for its unscrupulous capture of insects and other small animals in its razor-edged traps, is perhaps the most well-known example of this rapid and effective capture method. In order to activate the trap, the prey must make contact with two out of the three trigger hairs within 30 seconds.

Venus flytrap

The Venus flytrap is activated by trigger hairs…two strikes and you’re out!


Plants? Boring? Most definitely not!

To find out more about the new carnivorous plant discovered in Cambodia, take a look at the FFI website:

Helen Roddis, ARKive Species Text Author