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Proc Biol Sci. 2012 Dec 19;280(1753):20122569. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2012.2569. Print 2013 Feb 22.

'Insect aquaplaning' on a superhydrophilic hairy surface: how Heliamphora nutans Benth. pitcher plants capture prey.

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Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3EA, UK.


Trichomes are a common feature of plants and perform important and diverse functions. Here, we show that the inward-pointing hairs on the inner wall of insect-trapping Heliamphora nutans pitchers are highly wettable, causing water droplets to spread rapidly across the surface. Wetting strongly enhanced the slipperiness and increased the capture rate for ants from 29 to 88 per cent. Force measurements and tarsal ablation experiments revealed that wetting affected the insects' adhesive pads but not the claws, similar to the 'aquaplaning' mechanism of (unrelated) Asian Nepenthes pitcher plants. The inward-pointing trichomes provided much higher traction when insects were pulled outwards. The wetness-dependent capture mechanisms of H. nutans and Nepenthes pitchers present a striking case of functional convergence, whereas the use of wettable trichomes constitutes a previously unknown mechanism to make plant surfaces slippery.

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