World's largest meat-eating plant prefers to eat small animal poo

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Washington, March 14 (ANI): Botanists have discovered that the giant montane pitcher plant of Borneo, which is the largest meat-eating plant in the world, prefers to eat small animal poo.

According to a report by BBC News, the researchers found that the plant has a pitcher the exact same size as a tree shrew's body.

But it is not this big to swallow up mammals such as tree shrews or rats.

Instead, the pitcher uses tasty nectar to attract tree shrews, then ensures its pitcher is big enough to collect the feeding mammal's droppings.

"This species has always been famous for its ability to trap rodents, but I've been looking at the pitchers of this species on and off since 1987, and I've never seen a trapped rat inside," said Dr Charles Clarke, an expert on carnivorous plants based at Monash University's Sunway Campus in Selangor, Malaysia.

"This made me wonder: if it is large enough to trap rats, but it only traps them very rarely, it is likely that the pitchers are large because of some other reason?" he said.

To find out, Dr Clarke and colleagues Lijin Chin of Monash University and Dr Jonathan Moran of Royal Roads University in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada turned their attention to tree shrews, which inhabit the same forest as N. rajah.

They did so after noticing that tree shrews, which are a similar size to rodents but most closely related to primates, sometimes left faeces in the traps of large pitchers.

"All of a sudden we realised that there may be some relationship between big pitchers and tree shrews," said Dr Clarke. "So we decided to look at the pitcher geometry," he added.

What they found "totally blew us away", said Dr Clarke.

"In order for the tree shrews to reach the exudates, they must climb onto the pitchers and orient themselves in such a way that their backsides are located over the pitcher mouths," explained Dr Clarke.

The tree shrews then appear to defecate as a way of marking their feeding territory.

That suggests these supposedly "meat-eating" plants have evolved a mutualistic relationship with tree shrews.

The tree shrews get nectar, a valuable food source, and in return, the plants get to catch and absorb the tree shrew's faeces which likely supplies the majority of nitrogen required by the plant. (ANI)

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