The Death Aquatic – Rare Flesh-Eating Plant Found In WA

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It’s generally known that Australia is a world leader when it comes to deadly critters. But what about carnivorous plants?

It turns out we have those in abundance as well, including a newly discovered – and critically endangered - “aquatic Venus flytrap”, Aldrovanda vesiculosa, one of the few plants capable of rapid movement.

The plants were discovered by Curtin University researchers after a decade-long search of swamps and billabongs throughout northern Australia.

The Kimberley billabong is one of only 20 known locations spread across four continents that are home to Aldrovanda vesiculosa.

Aldrovanda vesiculosa, the aquatic Venus flytrap.
Photo supplied by Curtin University

The species produces unique underwater snapping traps to capture and feast on the  flesh of small aquatic invertebrate prey, hence its sobriquet “aquatic Venus flytrap”.

Dr Adam Cross and Honours student Thilo Krueger, from the ARC Centre for Mine Site Restoration in Curtin’s School of Molecular and Life Sciences, have each spent nearly 10 years searching swamps and billabongs throughout northern Australia for the critically endangered species and other carnivorous plants.

Cross, who wrote a book about the plant in 2012, says the discovery of a new population in WA’s remote Kimberley region was a “dream come true”.

“When I first saw it, I thought it was just another common species that has similar whorls of leaves, but when I got closer and saw the traps at the end of the leaves, I couldn't believe my eyes,” Cross says.

“This is the first time this species has been found in the Kimberley for more than 20 years. The only other known population from Western Australia is more than 2000 kilometres away near Esperance in the state’s south, where a small population of only a few dozen plants was discovered in 2007.

“This new location in the remote northern Kimberley is one of the largest populations ever discovered in Australia, in an area where habitat is still relatively pristine. This discovery gives us hope that northern Australia is still a stronghold for the species in the face of its continuing global decline.”

Krueger, who has moved from Germany to study at Curtin University in Western Australia, says he is ecstatic the pair’s search had resulted in a new discovery.

“Adam was just looking at me with this look of complete amazement and I immediately knew he had found something very, very exciting,” Krueger says.

“Although it was once widespread around the world, it is now considered critically endangered. Habitat loss and changes to water quality have seen the species become extinct in up to 30 countries, so the fact that we have found several thousand plants in Western Australia is significant.”

Lead Image: Dr Adam Cross at a billabong in Western Australia’s remote Kimberley region.
Photo supplied by Curtin University

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