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Palawan discovery: A living rat trap

August 18, 2009 8:09pm

Tags: Palawan
These giant pitcher plants, nepenthes attenboroughii, are large enough to trap insects and rodents. They were found at the summit of Mount Victoria in Palawan and named after British naturalist David Attenborough. Photo credit: Redfern Natural History
Found deep in the jungles of Palawan is a most unusual rat trap designed by nature and only recently discovered by man.

An international team of botanists found a pitcher plant that eats rodents on rugged Mount Victoria in Narra, Palawan, according to British news site Telegraph.co.uk.

British botanists Stewart McPherson and Alastair Robinson found the plant in 2007 but their findings were published only this year in the Botanical Journal of Linnean Society after a three-year study of 120 types of pitcher plants.

The team, which included Elizabeth Gironella and Clemencio Peña from Palawan State University, was informed of the plant’s existence by two Christian missionaries who scaled the mountain in 2000.

The rodent eater is among the largest of all pitcher plants. According to McPherson, “The plant produces spectacular traps which catch not only insects, but also rodents. It is remarkable that it remained undiscovered until the 21st century."

The rat-eating shrub dissolves its prey with acid-like enzymes inside its pitcher-shaped leaves. The pitchers measure 30 x 16 cm, double the size of usual pitcher plants found in the area.

Its funnel shape, a form usually associated with aerial types of the species, is distinct from its counterparts, which have a more rounded bottom. A terrestrial species, it has a red-lipped mouth topped by a smaller leaf called a lid.

John Pontillas, staff member of the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development, told GMANews.TV that the discovery “proves that the area is really bio-diverse."

The rat-eating shrub discovered in Palawan uses acid-like enzymes to dissolve its prey. Illustration by Analyn Perez
He added that “we need to be more careful about putting up developments in that specific part of Palawan." Pontillas called for the re-evaluation of projects such as mining in the municipality of Narra, where Mount Victoria is located, to protect the habitat of the species.

University of the Philippines botany lecturer Leonard Co recognized the newly-discovered species as “interesting" but describes the claims for its rodent-eating capabilities as “anecdotal, at best."

Co said the pitcher plant “cannot do that [create ‘spectacular traps’]" as it is only a “passive trap," which means that it waits for its prey to fall into its body rather than actively “look" for food.

However, he said it is possible that a small animal can fall into the plant’s cavity and get digested by its protein-dissolving enzymes.

The plant is now known as Nepenthes attenboroughii, named after British nature filmmaker Sir David Attenborough.

McPherson said they decided to name it after Attenborough because his work “has inspired generations toward a better understanding of the beauty and diversity of the natural world." – GMANews.TV

Tags: Palawan