One of nature’s more interesting products has to be carnivorous plants. It is not everyday that you hear about a stationary plant with a carnivorous appetite. The genus of carnivorous plants known as Nepenthes will eat just about any small insect that comes within its feeding range. But this is not the case for all Nepenthes. For example, one species known as Nepenthes albomarginata seems to prefer eating termites, and nothing but termites. After researchers discovered that this particular species of plant only consumed termites, researchers began to wonder how this carnivorous plant attracts so many termites. This finding was especially strange to researchers since other members of the Nepenthe genus don’t seem to attract any insects at all.
According to Marlis Merbach from Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität, the N. albomarginata uses small white hairs to attract and trap high numbers of termites. The researchers discovered that this particular plant possesses a group of white trichomes located below its peristome. These white trichomes were missing from pitcher plants that had already succeeded in catching large amounts of termites.
For the experiment researchers placed recently matured pitcher plants, as well as pitcher plants that had lost their trichomes, near a colony of Hospitalitermes bicolor termites. After an hour passed the researchers found that all of the plants were missing their unique trichomes, indicating that the plants had successfully lured termites, and these termites consumed the trichomes. Termites were found on all of the plants, but the plants that had trichomes at the start of the experiment possessed many more termites. Not all of the termites could escape once a hostile presence was sensed by them, so even plants without trichomes managed to scoop up a few termites. The researchers were unable to figure out how these trichomes attracted termites, but they don’t believe that it occurs through an olfactory process involving the release of pheromones.
Do you believe that the release of pleasing pheromones is the only possible way that these plants could attract termites? If you thought of another possibility, then what was it?