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A Plant That Eats … Worms!

January 10th, 2012

Philcoxia, the worm-eating plant. Credit: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Usually we think of animals eating plants — not the other way around. But scientists announced yesterday that they discovered a plant in Brazil … that eats worms!

It was tricky for scientists to even make this discovery because the plant, called Philcoxia , traps its prey underground. Philcoxia doesn’t look like much above ground, a few tiny leaves jutting out from some twig-like stalks. Most of us would probably walk right past this rare plant and not give it a second thought. But as it turns out, most of its leaves are actually underground and that’s where the action takes place. How? The leaves are suspiciously sticky — sticky enough to trap tiny worms called nematodes so that Philcoxia can have some lunch!

Why would a plant need to do this? Mainly, because there’s not a lot of other nutrients around in the sandy, rocky, dry area where Philcoxia lives in the Cerrado region of Brazil — a large woodland savannah.

An example of vegetation in the Cerrado region of Brazil. Photo credit: Flickr user Calil Souza via Creative Commons

Tough conditions are true for other carnivorous (meat eating) plants — the most famous one is probably the Venus Flytrap . But Philcoxia , according to Nature magazine, is the first plant we know of to trap its prey underground.

And though carnivorous plants are rare (about 0.2% of all flowering plants according to Nature ), the fact that we now know this can happen underground means that there just might be more carnivorous plants out there than we first thought!

To see more carnivorous plants (including one eating a frog!) click here to go to Live Science’s website .

Brazil's Cerrado region via satellite. Image credit: NASA


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