Have you ever walked through the woods at night and felt like the crooked branches of trees could reach out and grab you? Well, if you were a bird in Puerto Rico, that nightmarish feeling might be entirely justified.
Scientists exploring the forests of the Caribbean island have discovered two new species of forbidding bird-catcher trees, foliage that can ensnare birds with hooked, sticky fruits, and possibly later feed on the decomposing victims, reports Phys.org.
"Finding large organisms new to science from a relatively small and well-studied island seems implausible, but this recent naming of the two large trees from Puerto Rico proves that explorations in nature and museums can still produce exciting novelties." explained study co-author Jorge C. Trejo-Torres.
Although no bird graveyards were discovered at the base of these trees, the specimens belong to a group known as "bird-catcher" trees, a namesake that is no hyperbole. Fragile bones of birds often litter the base of these trees; occasionally, feathered bodies will dangle from their branches.
Bird-catcher trees all employ a similar strategy for dispersing their seeds: their fruits are covered in gooey little hooks that can uncomfortably catch on any creature that brushes across them. Usually, these barbs are mere annoyances, but occasionally a bird — usually a fledgling — will get covered in them and become trapped or unable to use its wings. As its body decays at the roots, this has the secondary benefit of nourishing the soil.
The two new species were named Pisonia horneae and Pisonia roqueae in honor of two women who have contributed immensely to the study of botany in Puerto Rico: Frances W. Horne (1873-1967), an American illustrator who spent 45 years painting 750 watercolors of plants from the island, and Dr. Ana Roqué de Duprey (1853-1933), a Puerto Rican educator, writer, and suffragist.
"It only seemed natural to name the two new species after these two extraordinary women who spent decades on large educational projects aimed to divulge botanical knowledge in Puerto Rico." explained Trejo-Torres. "Just like the two large trees remained unrecognized by science until now, the enormous efforts of these two women, who dedicated part of their lives to botanical work, remained largely unrecognized by the community."
The paper was published in the journal PhytoKeys.