This short video reveals how the carnivorous pitcher plant Heliamphora nutans traps its prey with an ingenious two-step method — even if the ants in the video are able to get a grip on the plant's dangerously smooth pelt, some well-placed water means the ants have almost no chance of getting out alive.
Heliamphora nutans is a lot less well-known than the granddaddy of carnivorous plants — the good old Venus flytrap — in part because of its location. The plant is only found atop an isolated plateau in Venezuela, an area so remote and weird that it's commonly known as "The Lost World." As ScienceNOW reports, that means the Cambridge researchers responsible for the video up top haven't even been able to discover with certainty what the plant's preferred prey is, though they do know that the plant really enjoys its ants:
The throat of the little-known Heliamphora nutans, new research shows, is covered with a pelt of tiny, precisely oriented hairs that prey can't easily ascend. The hairs also help to create a slippery, wet film on the pitcher's inner walls, making it nearly impossible for the plant's victims to get a grip. Instead, they plunge into the bottom of the pitcher, where they drown in a pool of water... When the researchers examined H. nutans with a scanning electron microscope, they saw that the pitcher's throat is densely carpeted with more than 100,000 tiny hairs, all pointing downward.
When they allowed an Asian ant species, Camponotus rufifemur, to stroll into a dry pitcher, only 29% fell into the abyss, as shown in the first section of the accompanying video. The bolder ants that ventured onto the longer hairs toward the bottom were most likely to fall, for reasons that are unclear. But when the ants were released into a wet pitcher, 88% went down the slippery slope to oblivion, as seen in the second section of the video. The scientists call it "insect aquaplaning."
For a bunch more on this fascinating creature, check out the full story over at ScienceNOW.