Join 3,373 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Giant 'meat-eating' plant produces traps big enough to catch rodents
August 12, 2009 3:06 AM   Subscribe

A giant carnivorous plant found only in Mount Victoria, Palawan in the Philippines, has been named Nepenthes attenboroughii, after renowned British naturalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough.
posted by Lush (33 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
Audrey II: Feed me!
Seymour: Does it have to be human?
Audrey II: Feed me!
Seymour: Does it have to be mine?
Audrey II: Feeeed me!

Come on, it's not like that wasn't your first thought too.
posted by Hactar at 3:28 AM on August 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Some of us were this close to forgetting the very existence of Rick Moranis. Thanks a lot, Hactar.
posted by cillit bang at 3:40 AM on August 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


"The pitcher plant is among the largest of all pitchers and is so big that it can catch rats ..."

... and rats there are probably the size of children.
posted by Kiwi at 3:43 AM on August 12, 2009


Hmmm, Lush, aren't you headed there in a few months? Maybe you could pick one up for me. If the landslides don't get you first. :)
posted by micketymoc at 4:00 AM on August 12, 2009


Nowhere does it give the size of the plant... nor show it along with anything that gives some scale.. I suspect this thing is about 6 inches tall....
posted by HuronBob at 4:18 AM on August 12, 2009


I'm conflicted. I hate rats, but feel I should stick up for a fellow mammal against something that's not even an animal.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 4:22 AM on August 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


HuronBob, in the Wikipedia article which cites the Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, it says:
"The stem, which may be up to 3.5 cm thick, is circular in cross section and attains a height of up to 1.5 m."

"The lower pitchers are brittle and campanulate (bell-shaped), up to 30 cm tall and 16 cm wide and emerge from tendrils that are 30-40 cm long and 4-9 mm in diameter.... The upper pitchers are similar to the lower pitchers, but generally infundibular, to 25 cm tall and 12 cm."
posted by Lush at 4:37 AM on August 12, 2009


Of course, "nepenthes" means forgetfulness. So it's actually named "forget attenborough".

The wikipedia link gives tons of size info.

I'm having difficulty believing that this plant actually does catch rats (as opposed to being "big enough to"). A rat dropped in a bucket of water will drown, but if the bucket is made out of a leaf? Doubtful.
posted by DU at 4:42 AM on August 12, 2009


Of course, "nepenthes" means forgetfulness.

Actually, it means "without sorrow." But forgetting everything is a good strategy for becoming sorrow-free.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 5:00 AM on August 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


And blue mushrooms too. Trippy.
posted by yesster at 5:05 AM on August 12, 2009


I'm having difficulty believing that this plant actually does catch rats (as opposed to being "big enough to"). A rat dropped in a bucket of water will drown, but if the bucket is made out of a leaf? Doubtful.

Pitcher plants are more than just leaf buckets that some little creature inadvertently fall into. Some have scents and visual lures to attract prey. Sometimes the walls are slippery or sticky. Sometimes little hairs aim downwards and prevent escape. Sometimes an hourglass shape makes escape more difficult. Then there is the nasty, bacteria filled liquid at the bottom that starts to digest you before you are even dead. Lovely stuff.
posted by Pollomacho at 5:44 AM on August 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Nepenthes attenboroughii is a lovely name and made me wonder how the pitcher-plants got christenened 'Nepenthes'. It's all thanks to Linnaeus, apparently:

The name Nepenthes was first published in 1737 in Linnaeus's Hortus Cliffortianus. It references a passage in Homer's Odyssey, in which the potion 'Nepenthes pharmakon' is given to Helen by an Egyptian queen. 'Nepenthe' literally means 'without grief', and in Greek mythology, is a drug that quells all sorrows with forgetfulness. Linnaeus explained:

'If this is not Helen's Nepenthes, it certainly will be for all botanists. What botanist would not be filled with admiration if, after a long journey, he should find this wonderful plant? In his astonishment, past ills would be forgotten when beholding this admirable work of the Creator!'


'Linnaeus had no idea of the carnivorous nature of the plant .. Like many others for years to come, he assumed the unusual pitcher leaves to be water-holding devices to help the plant survive drought.' (Peter D'Amato, The Savage Garden.)
posted by verstegan at 5:59 AM on August 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Then there is the nasty, bacteria filled liquid at the bottom that starts to digest you before you are even dead.

In his belly you will find a new definition of pain and suffering as you are slowly digested over a thousand years...

This is very cool. I like the props to Attenborough, and the blue mushrooms are indeed trippy. I'd love to see a pic of the blood red plant described at the end of the article, too.
posted by misha at 6:01 AM on August 12, 2009


I've really been enjoying David Attenborough's Life Stories, 10 minute radio broadcasts By Sir David Attenborough about plants and animals and filled with personal anecdotes. That man has had an amazing life.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:14 AM on August 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Sometimes the walls are slippery or sticky. Sometimes little hairs aim downwards and prevent escape. Sometimes an hourglass shape makes escape more difficult.

I wasn't imagining the rat climbing out, I was imagining it tearing its way out.

Then there is the nasty, bacteria filled liquid at the bottom that starts to digest you before you are even dead.

This could be a problem for the ultimate survival of the rat, but unless it's pretty fast it won't save the plant.
posted by DU at 6:34 AM on August 12, 2009


There are larger species out there but the only people who have discovered them were eaten by them.
posted by Burhanistan at 6:43 AM on August 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


When I read this, I thought it can't be the first time this has happened, and it isn't:

Materpiscis attenboroughi
Zaglossus attenboroughi


Also, given the number of obit threads recently, I was a bit scared that the post was going to read '...after renowned British naturalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough was eaten by one.' Phew.
posted by permafrost at 7:12 AM on August 12, 2009


micketymoc, yep, and Palawan sounds even more exciting now. I want one of these as a mousetrap! And those bright blue mushrooms...

I wasn't imagining the rat climbing out, I was imagining it tearing its way out.

From verstagen's link: "The trap contains a fluid of the plant's own production, which may be watery or syrupy and is used to drown the prey.... The trapping efficiency of this fluid remains high, even when significantly diluted by water, as inevitably happens in wet conditions. ... The lower part of the trap contains glands which absorb nutrients from captured prey. Along the upper inside part of the trap is a slick waxy coating which makes the escape of its prey nearly impossible. Surrounding the entrance to the trap is a structure called the peristome (the "lip") which is slippery and often quite colorful, attracting prey but offering an unsure footing."

So provided that the rat doesn't drown in the fluid that's the pitcher is likely filled with, it's in a flexible, cone-shaped well with waxy coating on its walls. It's not hard to imagine that a rat would find it difficult to get a good enough grip on it to climb, much less sink its teeth into - and all while the viscuous fluid at the bottom (that a different article says doesn't mix with rainwater) is already trying to digest it alive.
posted by Lush at 7:26 AM on August 12, 2009


I don't want David Attenborough to die.
posted by Henry C. Mabuse at 7:48 AM on August 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


This is a KIllER thread.
posted by nosila at 7:52 AM on August 12, 2009


Come on, it's not like that wasn't your first thought too.

Actually my first thought was, "Uh huh, Mr. Smartypants Gregory Peck, go ahead and stick your hand in there if you're so brave."
posted by FelliniBlank at 8:04 AM on August 12, 2009


Sometimes the walls are slippery or sticky. Sometimes little hairs aim downwards and prevent escape. Sometimes an hourglass shape makes escape more difficult.

I wasn't imagining the rat climbing out, I was imagining it tearing its way out.


I've grown Nepenthes. The pitchers are pretty leathery. I can believe that a rat would not be able to chew its way out before drowning.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:09 AM on August 12, 2009


DU, I like how you're trying to outsmart a plant.
posted by Bookhouse at 9:20 AM on August 12, 2009


if rick moranis married alanis morisette, she'd be alanis moranis.
posted by R_Nebblesworth at 9:50 AM on August 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Mice are easy prey. For those that wonder if the mouse got out: it didn't. As mentioned above, the insides of the pitcher are very slick. If you haven't had the opportunity to touch the inside of a nepenthes pitcher, it feels like rubbing your fingertip across a pane of glass coated in silicone lubricant and gives you the oddest sensation that the surface is accelerating your finger's movement. The liquid exuded by the plant is as thick as cooking oil in consistency. Unless whatever falls in is able to brace itself against the opposite wall in order to chew, it's not getting back out.

Now, as far as chewing, the walls of the bigger nep pitchers (and the N. spatulata in the above videos isn't that big, comparatively speaking) are very fibrous—almost woody—in composition and thicken toward the base. I once had a small invasion of mice* in my greenhouse and though they tried, they were unable to chew their way *into* the pitchers.

Nep pitchers are traditionally used as water containers and rice cookers (here's a recipe for Thai Sticky Rice in Coconut Cream, if you'd like to try it yourself).

*I swear never put a rodent into my plants as I like mousies too much but I've watched countless insects of all sizes get eaten and the same thing happens every time: the insect competently ambles around on the outside of the pitcher, steps on the lip and pratfalls straight in. The fall plunges the bug at least half inch into the plant's liquid as there's no surface tension to speak of (for small values of hilarity, drop a water strider in. They sink straight down with all 6 legs spread out and an astonished look on their mandibles). The bug struggles in place for a bit and some even make it to the side but they just scrabble around without any purchase. Within a few minutes, the bug stops moving and slowly sinks to the bottom.
posted by jamaro at 10:43 AM on August 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


I love hot Mr A creeps up on the plant in the video, as though he's trying to avoid it spotting him.
posted by Solomon at 11:06 AM on August 12, 2009


how*.

Jesus I got that wrong.
posted by Solomon at 11:17 AM on August 12, 2009


I love hot Mr A creeps

Paging Mister_A
posted by Burhanistan at 11:25 AM on August 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


If there were an anthropomorphic God, I bet He'd be a lot like David Attenborough... the man describes nature with a sincere, joyous fascination with how awesome it is.
posted by sharkitect at 12:32 PM on August 12, 2009


A larger, better picture of the plant and its discoverer.
posted by ooga_booga at 2:13 PM on August 12, 2009


The only difference between Rick Moranis and Rick Astley is pitch.
posted by Esoquo at 3:17 PM on August 12, 2009


Is it just me, or does anyone else find those plants rather creepy looking? A friend and I owned Venus Flytraps as children. But these pitcher plants just give me a chill. They look a bit otherworldly.

Yeah I know, but plants that snap shut don't bother me. Go figure.
posted by Splunge at 11:13 AM on August 13, 2009


does anyone else find those plants rather creepy looking?

But but but...they are beeeeauuuutiful!
posted by jamaro at 12:03 AM on August 14, 2009


« Older "Mountain chickens have very peculiar breeding hab...  |  This weekend marks the 40th an... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments