Episode 314: Animals Discovered in 2022

Let’s learn about some of the animals discovered in 2022! There are lots, so let’s go!

Further Reading:

In Japanese waters, a newly described anemone lives on the back of a hermit crab

Rare ‘fossil’ clam discovered alive

Marine Biologists Discover New Giant Isopod

Mysterious ‘blue goo’ at the bottom of the sea stumps scientists

New Species of Mossy Frog Discovered in Vietnam

A Wildlife YouTuber Discovered This New Species of Tarantula in Thailand

Meet Nepenthes pudica, Carnivorous Plant that Produces Underground Traps

Scientists discover shark graveyard at the bottom of the ocean

Further Watching:

JoCho Sippawat’s YouTube channel

A newly discovered sea anemone (photo by Akihiro Yoshikawa):

A mysterious blue blob seen by a deep-sea rover:

A newly discovered frog:

A newly discovered tarantula (photo by JoCho Sippawat):

Show transcript:

Welcome to Strange Animals Podcast. I’m your host, Kate Shaw.

It’s the 2022 discoveries episode, where we learn about some of the animals discovered in 2022! Most of the time these animals were actually discovered by scientists before 2022, but the description was published in that year so that’s when we first learned about them. And, of course, a lot of these animals were already known to the local people but had never been studied by scientists before. There are lots of animals in the world but not that many scientists.

The great thing is, so many animals get discovered in any given year that I have to pick and choose the ones I think listeners will find most interesting, which in a stunning coincidence turns out to be the ones that I personally find most interesting. Funny how that works out.

We’ll start in the ocean, which is full of weird animals that no human has ever seen before. It’s about a hermit crab who carries a friend around. The hermit crab was already known to science, but until a team of scientists observed it in its natural habitat, the deep sea off the Pacific coast of Japan, no one realized it had an anemone friend.

The sea anemone is related to jellyfish and is a common animal throughout the world’s oceans. Some species float around, some anchor themselves to a hard surface. Many species have developed a symbiotic relationship with other animals, such as the clownfish, which is sometimes called the anemonefish because it relies on the anemone to survive. Anemones sting the way jellyfish do, but it doesn’t sting the clownfish. Researchers aren’t sure why not, but it may have something to do with the clownfish’s mucus coating. Specifically, the mucus may have a particular taste that the anemone recognizes as belonging to a friend. If the anemone does accidentally sting the clownfish, it’s still okay because the fish is generally immune to the anemone’s toxins.

The clownfish lives among the anemone’s tentacles, which protects it from predators, and in return its movements bring more oxygen to the anemone by circulating water through its tentacles, its droppings provide minerals to the anemone, and because the clownfish is small and brightly colored, it might even attract predators that the anemone can catch and eat.

Anemones also develop mutualistic relationships with other organisms, including a single-celled algae that lives in its body and photosynthesizes light into energy. The algae has a safe place to live while the anemone receives some of the energy from the algae’s photosynthesis. But some species of anemone have a relationship with crabs, including this newly discovered anemone.

The anemone anchors itself to the shell that the hermit crab lives in. The crab gains protection from predators, who would have to go through the stinging tentacles and the shell to get to the crab, while the anemone gets carried to new places where it can find more food. It also gathers up pieces of food that the crab scatters while eating, because crabs are messy eaters.

The problem is that hermit crabs have to move into bigger shells as they grow. Anemones can move, but incredibly slowly. Like, snails look like racecar drivers compared to anemones. The anemone moves so slowly that the human eye can’t detect the movement.

What the team of scientists witnessed was a hermit crab spending several days carefully pushing and pinching the anemone to make it move onto its new shell. If it wasn’t important, the crab wouldn’t bother. The sea anemone hasn’t yet been officially described since it’s still being studied, but it appears to be closely related to four other species of anemone that also attach themselves to the shells of other hermit crab species.

In other marine invertebrate news, a researcher named Jeff Goddard was turning rocks over at low tide at Naples Point, California a few years ago. He was looking for sea slugs, but he noticed some tiny clams. They were only about 10 mm long, but they extended a white-striped foot longer than their shells. Goddard had never seen anything quite like these clams even though he was familiar with the beach and everything that lived there, so he took pictures and sent them to a clam expert. The expert hadn’t seen these clams before either and came to look for the clams in person. But they couldn’t find the clams again. It took ten trips to the beach and an entire year before they found another of the clams.

They thought the clam might be a new species, but part of describing a new species is examining the literature to make sure the organism wasn’t already described a long time ago. Eventually the clam research team did find a paper with illustrations of a clam that matched, published in 1937, but that paper was about a fossilized clam.

They examined the 1937 fossil shell and compared it to their modern clam shell. It was a match! But why hadn’t someone else noticed these clams before? Even Goddard hadn’t seen them, and he’s a researcher that spends a lot of time along the coast looking specifically for things like little rare clams. Goddard thinks the clam has only recently started extending its range northward, especially during some marine heatwaves in 2014 through 2016. He suspects the clam’s typical range is farther south in Baja California, so hopefully a future expedition to that part of the Pacific can find lots more of the clams and we can learn more about it.

We talked about deep-sea isopods just a few weeks ago, in episode 311. They’re crustaceans related to crabs and lobsters, but also related to roly-polies that live on land. The deep-sea species often show deep-sea gigantism and are referred to as giant isopods, and that’s what this newly discovered species is. It was first found in 2017 in the Gulf of Mexico and is more slender than other giant isopods. The largest individual measured so far is just over 10 inches long, or 26 cm, which is almost exactly half the length of the longest giant isopod ever measured. It’s still pretty big, especially if you compare it to its roly-poly cousins, also called pillbugs, sow bugs, or woodlice, who typically grow around 15 mm at most.

Before we get out of the water, let’s talk about one more marine animal. This one’s a mystery that I covered in the October 2022 Patreon episode. It was suggested by my brother Richard, so thank you again, Richard!

On August 30, 2022, a research team was off the coast of Puerto Rico, collecting data about the sea floor. Since the Caribbean is an area of the ocean with high biodiversity but also high rates of fishing and trawling, the more we can learn about the animals and plants that live on the sea floor, the more we can do to help protect them.

When a remotely operated vehicle dives, it sends video to a team of scientists who can watch in real time and control where the rover goes. On this particular day, the rover descended to a little over 1,300 feet deep, or around 407 meters, when the sea floor came in view. Since this area is the site of an underwater ridge, the sea floor varies by a lot, and the rover swam along filming things and taking samples of the water, sometimes as deep as about 2,000 feet, or 611 meters.

The rover saw lots of interesting animals, including fish and corals of various types, even a fossilized coral reef. Then it filmed something the scientists had never seen before. It was a little blue blob sitting on the sea floor.

The blue blob wasn’t moving and wasn’t very big. It was shaped roughly like a ball but with little points or pimples all over it and a wider base like a skirt where it met the ground, and it was definitely pale blue in color.

Then the rover saw more of the little blue blobs, quite a few of them in various places. The scientists think it may be a species of soft coral or a type of sponge, possibly even a tunicate, which is also called a sea squirt. All these animals are invertebrates that don’t move, which matches what little we know about the blue blob.

The rover wasn’t able to take a sample from one of the blue blobs, so for now we don’t have anything to study except the video. But we know where the little blue blobs are, so researchers hope to visit them again soon and learn more about them.

It wouldn’t be a newly discovered species list without at least one new frog. Quite a few frogs were discovered in 2022, including a tree frog from Vietnam called Khoi’s mossy frog. It lives in higher elevations and is pretty big for a tree frog, with a big female growing over 2 inches long, or almost 6 cm, from snout to vent. Males are smaller. It’s mostly brown and green with little points and bumps all over that help it blend into the moss-covered branches where it lives. That’s just about all we know about it so far.

Our next discovery is an invertebrate, a spider that lives in bamboo. Specifically it lives in a particular species of Asian bamboo in Thailand, and when I say it lives in the bamboo, I mean it really does live inside the bamboo stalks. Also, when I say it’s a spider, specifically it’s a small tarantula.

It was first discovered by a YouTuber named JoCho Sippawat, who travels around his home in Thailand and films the animals he sees. I watched a couple of his videos and they’re really well done and fun, and he’s adorable even when he’s eating gross things he finds, so I recommend his videos even if you don’t speak the language he speaks. I’m not sure if it’s Mandarin or another language, and I’m not sure if I’m pronouncing his name right either, so apologies to everyone from Thailand for my ignorance.

Anyway, Sippawat found a tarantula where no tarantula should be, inside a bamboo stalk, and sent pictures to an arachnologist. That led to a team of scientists coming to look for more of the spiders, and to their excitement, they found them and determined right away that they’re new to science. It was pretty easy to determine in this case because even though there are more than 1,000 species of tarantula in many parts of the world, none of them live in bamboo stalks. The new spider was placed in a genus all to itself since it’s so different from all other known tarantulas.

It’s mostly black and dark brown with narrow white stripes on its legs, and its body is only about an inch and a half long, or 3 1/2 cm. It can’t make holes into the bamboo plants itself, so it has to find a hole made by another animal or a natural crack in the bamboo. It lines its bamboo stalk with silk to make a little home, and while there’s a lot we don’t know yet about how it lives, it probably comes out of its home to hunt insects and other small animals since tarantulas don’t build webs.

Finally, let’s wrap around to the sea anemone again, at least sort of. If you remember episode 129, we talked about the Venus flytrap sea anemone, which is an animal that looks kind of like a carnivorous plant called the Venus flytrap. We then also talked about a lot of other carnivorous plants, including the pitcher plant. Well, in 2022 a new species of pitcher plant was discovered that has underground traps.

The pitcher plant has a type of modified leaf that forms a slippery-sided pitcher filled with a nectar-like liquid. When an insect crawls down to drink the liquid, it falls in and can’t get out. It drowns and is dissolved and digested by the plant. Almost all known carnivorous plants are pretty small, but the largest are pitcher plants. The biggest pitcher plant known is from a couple of mountains in Malaysian Borneo, and its pitchers can hold over 2 ½ liters of digestive fluid. The plant itself is a messy sort of vine that can grow nearly 20 feet long, or 6 meters. Mostly pitcher plants just attract insects, especially ants, but these giant ones can also trap frogs, lizards, rats and other small mammals, and even birds.

The newly discovered pitcher plant grows in the mountainous rainforests of Indonesian Borneo and is relatively small. Unlike every other pitcher plant known, its pitchers develop underground and can grow a little over 4 inches long, or 11 cm. Sometimes they grow just under the surface, with leaf litter or moss as their only covering, but sometimes they grow deeper underground. Either way, they’re very different from other pitcher plants in other ways too. For one thing, scientists found a lot of organisms actually living in the pitchers and not getting eaten by the plant, including a new species of worm. Scientists aren’t sure why some animals are safe in the plant but some animals get eaten.

The new pitcher plant is found in parts of Indonesian Borneo that’s being turned into palm oil plantations at a devastating rate, leading to the extinction or threatened extinction of thousands of animal and plant species. The local people are also treated very badly. Every new discovery brings more attention to the plight of the area and makes it even more urgent that its ecosystems are protected from further development. The fastest way to do this would be for companies to stop using so much palm oil. Seriously, it’s in everything, just look at the ingredients list for just about anything. I try to avoid it when I’m grocery shopping but it’s just about impossible. I didn’t mean to rant, but the whole palm oil thing really infuriates me.

You know what? Let’s have one more discovery so we don’t end on a sour note.

A biodiversity survey of two of Australia’s marine parks made some really interesting discoveries in 2022. This included a new species of hornshark that hasn’t even been described yet. It’s probably related to the Port Jackson shark, which grows to around five and a half feet long, or 1.65 meters, and is a slow-moving shark that lives in shallow water off the coast of most of Australia. Instead of a big scary mouth full of sharp teeth, the Port Jackson shark has a small mouth and flattened teeth that allow it to crush mollusks and crabs. The newly discovered shark lives in much deeper water than other hornsharks, though, around 500 feet deep, or 150 meters.

Another thing they found during the survey wasn’t a new species of anything, but it’s really cool so I’ll share it anyway. It was a so-called shark graveyard over three miles below the ocean’s surface, or 5400 meters. The scientists were trawling the bottom and when they brought the net up to see what they’d found, it was full of shark teeth–over 750 shark teeth! They were fossilized but some were from modern species while some were from various extinct species of shark, including a close relative of Megalodon that grew around 39 feet long, or 12 meters. No one has any idea why so many shark teeth are gathered in that particular area of the sea floor.

You can find Strange Animals Podcast at strangeanimalspodcast.blubrry.net. That’s blueberry without any E’s. If you have questions, comments, or suggestions for future episodes, email us at strangeanimalspodcast@gmail.com. If you like the podcast and want to help us out, leave us a rating and review on Apple Podcasts or Podchaser, or just tell a friend. We also have a Patreon at patreon.com/strangeanimalspodcast if you’d like to support us for as little as one dollar a month and get monthly bonus episodes.

Thanks for listening!

Episode 129: The blurry line between animals and plants

This week we’re looking at some really strange animals…or are they plants? Or both? We’ll start with the sea anemone, then learn about a sea slug that photosynthesizes like a plant (sort of), then learn a little about whether algae is a plant or an animal…and then we’re off and running through the wild world of carnivorous plants–including some carnivorous plants of mystery!

Thanks to Joshua Hobbs of A Degree in Nonsense for the suggestion, and to Simon for the article link I’ve already managed to lose!

A sea anemone and some actual anemones. Usually pretty easy to tell apart:

The sea onion looks so much like an onion I can’t even stand it. This is an ANIMAL, y’all!

Venus flytrap sea anemone and actual Venus flytrap. It’s usually pretty easy to tell these two apart too.


The eastern emerald elysia, a sea slug that looks and acts like a leaf:

Giant kelp. Not a plant. Actually gigantic algae. Algae is neither a plant nor an animal:

The corpse flower (left) and the corpse lily (right). Both smell like UGH and both are extremely BIG:

The pitcher plant can grow very big:

Maybe don’t go near trees with a lot of skulls around them:

Puya chilensis (the clumps in the foreground are its leaves; the spikes in the background are its flower spikes):

Show transcript:

Welcome to Strange Animals Podcast. I’m your host, Kate Shaw.

This week we’re going to explore the sometimes blurry line between animals and plants. Joshua Hobbs of a great new podcast A Degree in Nonsense suggested a type of carrion flower that smells like rotting flesh to attract insects, and friend of the pod Simon sent me an article about carnivorous plants. Our very first Patreon bonus episode was actually about carnivorous plants, so I’ve expanded on that episode and added lots of interesting new content. Buckle up, folks, because we’re going to cover a whole lot of ground today!

Oh, and Joshua also says, quote, “I never had a pet growing up, but recently gained an interest in animals. Now after getting into your podcast and animal YouTube channels, I’ve got my first pet, a little corn snake named Arnold!” So welcome to podcasting, Joshua and Arnold!

Let’s start by looking at an animal that resembles a plant. The sea anemone looks so much like a plant that it was named after an actual flower, the anemone, but the sea anemone is related to jellyfish. Most sea anemones attach to a rock or other hard surface most of their lives and don’t move much, although they can creep along very slowly—so slowly that snails are racecar drivers in comparison. Many species have a body shaped like a plant stem and colorful tentacles that resemble flower petals. But those tentacles aren’t just to look pretty. The sea anemone uses them to catch prey. The tentacles are lined with stinging cells that contain venom, just like many jellyfish have. The venom contains neurotoxins that paralyzes a fish or other small animal so that the sea anemone can eat it.

So how does something that looks like a plant eat a fish?

The sea anemone has an interesting body plan. What looks like the stem of a plant is called the column, and in some species it’s thin and delicate while in other species it’s thick like a tree trunk. It sticks to its rock or whatever with an adhesive foot called a basal disc, and on the other end of the column is what’s called the oral disc. Oral means mouth. The actual mouth is in the middle of the oral disc, surrounded by tentacles. The mouth is usually shaped like a slit, which if you think about it is sort of how people’s mouths are too. The digestive system is inside the column. But there is no other opening into the body. The mouth is it. So like jellyfish, the mouth takes in food but it also expels waste, so, you know, not precisely a mouth like ours. When the sea anemone wants to eat, it uses its tentacles to push the food into its mouth.

You know the movie Finding Nemo? Nemo and his dad are clownfish, which aren’t affected by sea anemone venom. Clownfish hide among sea anemone tentacles so predators won’t bother them. In return, the sea anemone eats the clownfish’s poops. I wish I were making that up.

If a sea anemone feels threatened, many species can not only suck its tentacles into its mouth, it can retract the whole mouth inside its body. Basically, it can swallow its own mouth. A sea anemone called the sea onion retracts its tentacles and inflates its column so that it looks like an actual onion. The sea onion lives in a burrow it digs very slowly into the sediment at the bottom of the ocean, with just its tentacles sticking out.

Most sea anemones live in relatively shallow water, but there are some deep-sea species. The Venus flytrap sea anemone has been found at 5,000 feet deep, or over 1,500 meters. At first glance looks like a Venus flytrap plant, thus the name. Its body is a long, usually slender column that widens into a big oral disc on top that’s fringed with short tentacles. It mostly eats detritus that drifts down from above, which it filters from the water with its tentacles, although if a living creature strays into its tentacles it’ll eat it too.

That brings us to the actual Venus flytrap. It’s a plant that eats insects and spiders, especially crawling insects like ants and beetles. The ends of its leaves are modified into lobes that look a little like flowers because the insides of the lobes are a cheerful red while the edges and the hair-like cilia are yellow. When a bug touches the receptors inside the lobes it closes tightly. If the insect continues to move around inside, stimulating the receptors even more, the lobes seal and form a sort of stomach. Digestive enzymes are secreted and about ten days later the lobes reopen and there’s nothing left of the insect but its empty exoskeleton.

If bugs made movies, this would be the subject of every single bug horror film.

The Venus flyptrap is only found in one small part of the world, the boggy areas surrounding Wilmington, North Carolina in the United States. They’re so in demand that the plant is almost extinct in the wild due to idiots digging them up to sell. But Venus flytraps really aren’t that difficult to grow, you just have to make sure the soil you use is deficient in nitrogen and phosphorus. So you can buy Venus flytraps that were grown ethically instead of dug up from the wild. As of 2014 digging up a Venus flytrap is a felony in North Carolina.

Before we go on to talk about some other carnivorous plants, let’s discuss an animal that acts like a plant. It’s a sea slug called the eastern emerald elysia and it lives along the east coast of North America in shallow water. Even though it’s a sea slug, it will also live in fresh water. It grows to about an inch long, or 3 cm, and is green. It’s green because it photosynthesizes like a plant…sort of.

The sea slug eats algae, but it doesn’t fully digest the algae it eats. Its digestive system retains the algae’s chloroplasts, which are the parts of a plant cell that convert sunlight into energy, which is what photosynthesis is. The sea slug keeps the chloroplasts in its digestive system and keeps them alive for months, living off the energy the chloroplasts produce. Researchers aren’t sure how the sea slugs keep the chloroplasts alive.

This is pretty amazing, but it’s not the only sea slug that photosynthesizes in this way. The blue dragon sea slug, that lives along coasts around the Indo-Pacific Ocean, doesn’t just keep chloroplasts alive to produce chlorophyll energy. It gets even more complicated about it. The blue dragon eats tiny animals called hydrozoa, which are related to jellyfish and include the freshwater hydra, although since the blue dragon only lives in the ocean it doesn’t actually eat the hydra. The blue dragon eats hydrozoa that themselves contain a type of microscopic algae that live in a lot of animals, like giant clams, some jellyfish, even some sea anemones, and exchange energy from photosynthesis for protection from predators by living in or on its host. So when the blue dragon eats the hydrozoa containing these algae, it retains the algae and keep them alive. So basically it gets to eat its prey and steals its prey’s symbiotic algae.

Speaking of algae, most algae photosynthesize, and in fact many seaweeds, like kelp, aren’t plants but are giant plant-like algae. But algae, technically, aren’t plants. They’re not animals either. Researchers and taxonomists are still working out the ways various algae are related to each other and to other organisms, but most algae are considered more closely related to plants than to animals without actually being plants. They’re usually grouped with plants above the kingdom level of taxonomy, but since at that level animals like humans and fish and worms and mosquitoes are grouped with fungi, this is a really broad category.

And that brings us, in a roundabout way, to the rotten meat smelling plant suggested by Joshua. There are several plants that attract flies and other insects to pollinate their flowers by smelling of rotten meat. Some of these have freakishly large flowers, like the corpse flower. It lives in rainforests in parts of Sumatra and Java and is actually related to the calla lily. It’s a weird-shaped plant and hard to describe. You know how a calla lily has a pretty white petal that wraps around a yellow spike thing? The corpse flower is like that, only it can be ten feet high, or 3 meters. The thing that looks like a petal is actually a specialized leaf and the yellow spike is called the spadix. The yellow part is made up of tiny flowers, so a calla lily isn’t a single flower, it’s lots of flowers that look like one. Well, the corpse flower is like that, although its flowers are actually only at the bottom of the spadix. The petal-like leaf is dark red inside. The top of the spadix is where the rotten smell comes from, and it’s incredibly stinky—something like rotting meat and rotting fish with some extra smell like dung on top of it. It releases this stink mostly in the evenings and the top of the spadix actually grows hot to better disperse the smell.

The largest single flower in the world is sometimes called the corpse lily and it can grow over three feet across, or about a meter. It’s dark reddish-brown with white speckles and five fleshy petals, which look like meat. It smells like rotting meat too. Flies are attracted to the flower, which pollinate it. The flower can take an entire year to develop but only blooms for a few days. If it’s successfully pollinated, the flower produces a round fruit full of seeds that are eaten by tree shrews, which later poop the seeds out and spread them.

But the corpse lily isn’t any ordinary plant. It doesn’t even have roots or a stem or leaves. All it has is the flower, which grows directly from the roots of the corpse lily’s host plant. That’s right, the corpse lily is a parasitic plant, but it’s no ordinary parasite. It grows not on or around its host plant, but inside it. The host plant is a type of vine called Tetrastigma, related to the grape vine. When a tree shrew poops out a seed, the seed germinates and if it happens to germinate on a Tetrastigma vine, it develops tiny threadlike filaments that penetrate the vine and grow inside it.

The corpse lily lives only in the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra, and it’s rare and getting rarer since so much of the rainforests in those areas are being destroyed. Fortunately, the corpse lily is actually a tourist attraction since it’s so rare, so spectacular, and so stinky. People who have corpse lilies growing in their yard sometimes protect the flower buds from harm and charge tourists to come look at them, which helps the people of the area and the plants.

There are literally hundreds of carnivorous plant species, with carnivorous habits evolving probably nine different times among plants that aren’t related. Different species use different methods to catch insects. For instance, the pitcher plant has modified leaf that forms a slippery-sided pitcher filled with nectar-like liquid. When an insect crawls down to drink the liquid, it falls in. The insect drowns and is dissolved and digested.

Some carnivorous plants have leaves lined with sticky mucilage, which traps small insects. The sundew has tentacles lined with hair-like structures beaded with mucilage. When an insect becomes trapped in the mucilage, the tentacles bend toward the insect and stick onto it, sometimes quite quickly—in seconds, or in at least one species, a fraction of a second. Generally you don’t think of plants as moving that fast.

Almost all known carnivorous plants are pretty small. The largest are pitcher plants. Two species of big pitcher plants grow in the mountains of the Philippines. Attenborough’s pitcher plant was discovered in 2007 and described in 2009, and is a shrub with pitchers that can hold nearly two liters of fluid. An even bigger pitcher plant was discovered in 2010. But the biggest pitcher plant known is from a couple of mountains in Malaysian Borneo called Nepenthes rajah. It’s been known to science since 1858 and its pitchers can hold over 2 ½ liters of digestive fluid. The biggest pitcher ever measured was over 16 inches tall, or about 41 cm, and the plant itself is a messy sort of vine that can grow nearly 20 feet long, or 6 meters. Mostly pitcher plants just attract insects, but these giant ones also trap frogs, lizards, rats and other small mammals, and even birds.

There’s always the chance that even bigger pitcher plants have yet to be discovered by science, although probably not much bigger than the ones we do know about. The larger an animal, the more likely it is to damage the pitcher while trying to escape. Insects and the occasional small animal are fine, anything bigger than that could just bust through the leaf.

But there have long been rumors about plants that eat much larger animals, even humans. In the 1870s, a German explorer named Karl Liche claimed he’d witnessed a tribe in Madagascar sacrifice a woman to a carnivorous tree. His account is not very believable. He describes the tree as about eight feet high with a thick trunk. A coat of leaves hang down from the top of the tree, leaves about twelve feet long with thorns. At their base is a flower-like receptacle with sweet liquid inside, with six ever-moving tendrils stretching up from it. When the sacrificial woman was made to drink the liquid, the tendrils wrapped around her and the tree’s long leaves folded up and over her. After ten days, the leaves relaxed, leaving nothing but a bleached skull at the base of the tree.

Later expeditions to Madagascar never found any plant that resembled Liche’s. In fact, everyone who’s researched Liche, the tribe he mentioned, and the tree in question haven’t found any evidence that any of them ever existed. It turns out that the account was a hoax from start to finish, written by a reporter named Edmund Spencer for a newspaper called the New York World in 1874.

A 1924 book called Madagascar: Land of the Man-Eating Tree describes a more realistic-sounding carnivorous plant that was supposed to be from India. Its blossoms have a pungent smell that attracts mice and sometimes large insects, which crawl into a hole in the blossom that turns out to be a bristly trap. This sounds a little like the corkscrew plant that lives in wet areas of Africa and Central and South America. It has ordinary leaves aboveground but modified leaves that grow underground. The modified leaves are traps with a stalk lined with hairs pointing in one direction. Tiny water animals, especially single-celled protozoans, stray into the leaves but can’t get out because of the hairs. They’re digested and absorbed by the leaves. But there are no known corkscrew plants or anything like them that trap larger animals or animals that live aboveground.

An 1892 article describes a friend of a friend of a friend’s encounter with a tangle of thin, willow-branch-like vines covered with an incredibly sticky gum. This was supposed to have happened in Nicaragua in Central America. A Mr. Dunstan’s dog was ensnared by the plant but was rescued by Dunstan, who managed to cut the vines with his knife. In the process, both man and dog suffered blistered injuries from the plant, as though it had been trying to suck their blood. The article also says that natives of the area say the plant will reduce a lump of meat to a dried husk in only five minutes.

From these sorts of factual-seeming accounts, it’s a short step to plants of folklore like the Japanese Jubokko tree that grows on battlefields and drinks human blood. It captures people who pass too close to it, sticks its branches into them, and sucks out their blood. If someone cuts into the tree’s bark, blood comes out instead of sap.

Another carnivorous plant was supposedly encountered by a French explorer in 1933 in the jungles of southern Mexico. He doesn’t describe the plant in his 1934 magazine article, just says it’s enormous, but he does say that when a bird alighted on one of its leaves, the leaf closed and pierced the bird with long thorns. The expedition’s guide called it a vampire plant.

A similar story supposedly of a plant found in South America and Central Africa is of a short tree with barbed leaves that grow along the ground, and if an animal or bird steps on the leaves they twine around it and stab it to death, then squeeze the blood out to absorb.

There may actually be a real plant that these stories are based on. It’s called the Puya chilensis and it lives in Chile in South America, on dry hillsides of the Andes Mountains near the ocean. It’s an evergreen plant that only flowers after it’s some 20 years old, with a flower spike that can grow over 6 ½ feet high, or up to 2 meters. The flowers are pollinated by birds. But its leaves are long, edged with hooked spines, and grow in clumps that can be up to six feet wide, or nearly two meters.

Those hooks along the leaves give the plant its other name, the sheep-killer. Sheep and other animals can become entangled in the leaves, which are so tough that locals use the leaf’s fibers to make rope. If the animal can’t escape, it dies and its body decomposes, adding nutrients to the soil around the plant. Yum.

You can find Strange Animals Podcast online at strangeanimalspodcast.blubrry.net. That’s blueberry without any E’s. We’re on Twitter at strangebeasties and have a facebook page at facebook.com/strangeanimalspodcast. If you have questions, comments, or suggestions for future episodes, email us at strangeanimalspodcast@gmail.com. We also have a Patreon if you’d like to support us that way.

Thanks for listening!