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Meet The Natives: Monkey cups with deadly catch

Pitcher plants found hanging in front of many homes around the island may look pretty but they are a deadly trap for many insects.


By Supatra Sutham

Tuesday 26 April 2016, 06:36PM


Insects and other prey get trapped inside the  pitcher plant’s cup. Photo: Supatra Sutham

Insects and other prey get trapped inside the pitcher plant’s cup. Photo: Supatra Sutham

The pitcher plant has many different species throughout the world and the most common one found on the island is the tropical pitcher plants known as Nepenthes species or monkey cups; in Thai: Moh Khaw Moh Kang Ling.

Many are plants of hot, humid, lowland areas, but the majority are tropical plants, receiving warm days but cool to cold, humid nights year round. Nepenthes are tropical pitcher plants native to parts of South East Asia, India, Madagascar and Australia. Pitcher plant are insectivorous plants with leaves adapted for trapping insects. Each leaf forms a “pitcher,” or a trumpet-shaped enclosure, usually containing a liquid.

Pitcher plant species may look pretty, but they are carnivorous. The deadly trap pitcher plant lure insects with a sweet-smelling nectar and sometimes by brilliant colouration. When the insects arrive to feast, they slide into the pitcher’s deadly pool. The sides of the pitcher are slippery and may be grooved in such a way so as to ensure that the insects cannot climb out, even flying insects rarely escape the deadly pool. If a bug doesn’t drown immediately, the sugars and digestive juices give the liquid a tackiness that makes flying with wet wings very difficult. In order to digest the insects they trap, pitcher plants must produce enzymes to break down their insect prey. The trapped insects are apparently digested by plant enzymes and perhaps by bacteria present in the collected rainwater solution.

Pitcher plant’s prey usually consists of insects, but the largest species may occasionally catch big prey like rats, birds or lizards. The next time you come across these strange looking plants, peek inside for a surprise catch.

 

 

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