18 Insane Facts About Carnivorous Plants

Ed Wike
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There are over 700 species of carnivorous plants around the world.

These plants have unusual adaptations that help them survive in places with little to no nutrients. Carnivorous plants go by a variety of names including insectivorous plants, pitcher plants, or flytraps.

Here are some crazy facts about carnivorous plants:

  • Carnivorous Plants Get their Nutrients from Bugs
  • Carnivorous plants are more common in temperate zones because they can be abundant in certain tropical zones.
  • The Venus Flytrap has a special snap-catch mechanism that allows the plant to eat without leaving any parts in the trap for bugs to feed on. If the bug escapes, the next time it lands in the flytrap the trap will again close, or update itself if the bug entered the trap but did not escape.
  • Not all carnivorous plants prey on bugs. Some carnivorous plants have adaptations that will allow them to capture other small prey like tadpoles and small fish.
  • The most famous carnivorous plants are the pitcher plants. Flytraps and Venus flytraps are small in comparison to pitchers. The pitcher plant Nepenthes rajah can capture and consume entire rats.
  • A pitcher plant can go years without feeding. It can survive by using oils and pigments produced by its leaves and by absorbing nutrients from rain water.
  • Pitcher plants have slippery and waxy surfaces that help prevent rain water from leaking out.

Venus Fly Traps use a “snap trap” to capture their prey.

The “snap trap” of venus flytraps sounds like a pretty apt name for a feature designed to trap insects, but it is actually a misnomer. It snaps shut with tremendous force, but there is no metal bar to make it spring.

Instead, the system is much more organic than that.

When insects crawl onto the leaves of venus flytraps, they touch trigger hairs near the leaf margins. These hairs do not actually pierce the animals, rather they cause electricity to flow between the leaf surfaces and cause the leaf to bend. This closing action is fast, but it is only part of the trap.

The real magic occurs once the trap is shut. Once the two halves touch, the inside of the trap pinches together with incredible force. It is these gushing fluids that seal the insect inside, leaving it to die and providing a tasty meal for the venus flytrap.

Pitcher plants use a “pitfall trap” to collect their food.

By making a pitfall trap, the plant makes itself look like a small puddle of water. Insects that are attracted to the water will fall into the reservoir and drown.

Inside the plant, is a fleshy, bulb-like part known as the “the pitchers”, which are used by the plant to trap the insects.

The plant also contains enzymes which are poisonous to insects, so they can’t escape (either that or they drown).

Some plants use “active sticky traps” to trap insects.

These traps range from velcro-like sticky leaves to funnels that look like the top of an ice cream cone. The traps are coated with tiny hairs that trap the insects and help to pull them into the digestive system.

I didn’t know that. I did not know about the traps or hairs. That’s really crazy. How does that action take place?

The leaves of the plants are sensitive, and they will close rapidly when disturbed. If an animal becomes trapped within the leaf, the leaf then moves fibers around the insect, much like a spider would wrap its prey.

Here are some other facts about carnivorous plants.

Other plants will not let the insects be eaten by fending off the plant itself. For example, Venus Flytraps wait for an insect to become stuck to their leaves. Then the plant begins to digest the insect. The digestive enzymes will dissolve the parts of the insect that are to be absorbed by the plant. The plant’s tongue is moved by the process of digestion. The tongue’s movement will help to draw the insect into the trap. The plant can gain nutrients from the insect once it has dissolved it.

Others use “passive sticky traps.”

The sundew (pictured above) captures insects in sturdy tentacles. When the insect struggles, the stalks release an enzyme that dissolves its body.

“Suction traps” are absolutely amazing to watch.

In nature, they can be the difference between life and death for the plant. They are used by many bug-eating nepenthes species to catch a wide variety of insects. Many species will produce larger traps and more traps after a rainfall, as they have a greater likelihood of catching a prey item during those wetter periods. The nepenthes rajah can even throw its prey toward the center of its leaf. Once the insect is inside the trap, it has a slim chance of survival. In most cases, the digestive enzymes and acids will decompose the prey within hours if not minutes, if they can’t use it for their own nourishment. Take a look at the videos below and get a closer look at the incredible action of these incredible traps.

People all over the world use different types of carnivorous plants to control pests in their gardens and lawns. They have been used to control pests for at least 400 years, since a Frenchman used valisneria to control snails that were ruining his rice crop.

This practice continues to this day, with meat eating plants being used as a natural way to control bugs and insects in gardens.

The “lobster pot” trap captures prey underground!

The Darwin’s sundew plant (Drosera Darwiniana) is native to Australia and Tasmania.

The interesting thing about D. Darwiniana is that it features this little structure known as a “lobster pot” trap. The lobster pot is pretty cool looking. Anyway, it acts as a pitfall trap, which means it gets dug into the ground. When an insect of the right size gets stuck in the pit, enzymes allow the sundew plant to digest the insect.

Pretty perplexing considering the Darwin’s sundew plant has no leaves. So, if it’s not digesting the insect in underground, then now you’re starting to wonder where the rest of it is being digested. Luckily, there is a very interesting evolutionary answer for that.

New species of carnivorous plants are being discovered.

It's not just the Venus flytrap anymore. Carnivorous plants have been evolving for over 15,000 years. There are many types with different strategies. Some trap insects with mucus slimy leaves. Others use leaves that have slippery hairs. Others have suction traps that vacuum in their prey.

But did you know that these plants have a vegetarian side too? Scientists are studying the kinds of nutrients needed for carnivorous to grow. Since sunlight doesn't provide the amount and kind of nutrients carnivorous plants need, they are looking into essential soil minerals for survival and growth.

Carnivorous plants wouldn’t be able to eat you if they tried.

Carnivorous plants eat insects. Some species of carnivorous plants can grow over three feet tall, while others remain small and grow only a fraction of an inch. These plants have glands that produce enzymes to dissolve insects, and they lure them to their deaths with ginormous appetizing nectar lures.

Here are 18 insane facts about carnivorous plants that every carnivorous plant lover should know.

{1}. Plants that exclusively gain nutrients through photosynthesis are not capable of digesting or absorbing nutrients from prey – like their carnivorous cousins.
{2}. In nature, carnivorous plants grow in nutrient poor soil but are overrun with bugs.
{3}. Carnivorous plants aren't very picky with their prey. They'll eat any bug that gets in range – worms, caterpillars, spiders, ants and bugs of the other carnivorous type.
{4}. Some carnivorous plants are scentless, and the ones that aren't make use of fake attractants to lure prey. They only want those insects that will make a good meal; they don't want to waste effort on things that will just end up passing through.
{5}. Flies, spiders, ants, shiny minerals, and even small frogs are also considered prey by carnivorous plants. They have a habit of absorbing predators young enough to be mistaken for prey.

In fact, some carnivorous plants don’t even use digestive enzymes.

Instead, they’ll allow an insect to completely dissolve before they absorb the nutrients into the plant itself.

Carnivorous plants include familiar flora like the Venus flytrap and pitcher plants, and also well-liked and less well-known species such as the orchid mantis, purple pitcher plant, sundew and butterwort.

  • In Australia, pitcher plants have been observed catching bees to supplement their diet.
  • Some pitcher plants capture larvae of mosquitoes in their tendrils, but research suggests that mosquitoes in pitcher plants may actually be a case of mistaken identity. Instead, the larvae may be feeding on the mosquito pupae found in the pitcher’s back wall, or they may be using the pitcher plant “hiving” as their place to metamorphose.
  • The Venus flytrap is so-called because it catches only flying insects.
  • The tiny bladderwort plant is a carnivore that resides in shallow, freshwater environments. When the bladderwort detects microscopic aquatic organisms by sensing the ripples they cause in the water, their special glands open up and they absorb the organisms directly into their closed bladders.
  • Many carnivorous plants are native to environments that have been disturbed or industrialized; these populations are particularly at risk.

Most carnivorous plants are found in areas with low soil nutrition.

A low-nutrient environment is the natural habitat of most carnivorous plants.

There are carnivorous plants underwater.

They more or less breathe through their leaves. Instead of using carbon dioxide for photosynthesis, they use the hydrogen sulfide in the water to produce sugars. The plants, like the Aldrovanda vesiculosa, have leaves packed with buoyant air bladders that float them on the surface of the water. When these bladders are broken, they will start to sink, letting the plant die. If brought back above the water the air bladders will expand again, bringing the plant back to its buoyant surface position.

There are carnivorous plants in deserts.

You should purchase a greenhouse if you want to grow carnivorous plants.

To keep it warm enough, a greenhouse allows you to keep the temperature around 20 degrees Celsius, and in order for it to remain humid, it needs to be kept at 80% humidity.

Carnivorous plants will even eat larger animals, like rodents. Basically, if the insect crawls onto the plant, the plant can flick out its "tongue," which swabs the insect with digestive enzymes, before consuming it.

If you can’t get a greenhouse, at least use a terrarium.

It’s no secret that you can grow carnivorous plants just as easily as any other garden plant. But you’d be amazed at just how easy it is, and many of the plants show up in your garden center without a care in the world, just waiting to be bought. But you will need to put a little work into caring for them to make sure that they survive your first year. A greenhouse being the ideal, try to at least devote a room in your house or apartment to a terrarium and take care of the plants as you would any houseplant. If you live somewhere particularly humid (such as Florida or Hawaii) you don’t even need a greenhouse, just a sealed, sunny room.

Most people who live in cooler areas tend to forget about carnivorous plants since they are generally always green and tend to sport the type of leaves that people typically love to mow around in their own backyards. If you happen to be of the slow-growing wintry variety of Sarracenia leucophylla, a pitcher plant, you probably will be forced to hibernate during winter months.

If you provide your carnivorous plants with the right amount of heat, light, and humidity, your plant will grow, flower, and produce healthy seeds just as easily as any other plant in your garden.

Do NOT take carnivorous plants from the wild.

Instead, buy them from reputable nurseries or online stores.

If you are planning to grow carnivorous plants as a hobby, you must first learn a few things about them. They are species that derive nutrients from animal sources. This is not surprising as they are at the bottom of the food chain. While there are several varieties of carnivorous plants, the Venus flytrap is one of the most popular. It’s native to the coastal bogs of North and South Carolina as well as Florida and makes a great conversation piece.

Here are 18 facts about carnivorous plants that you may not know.

{1}. Carnivorous plants are found in swamps, marshes, and other wetlands around the world.
{2}. Plants that catch and kill prey are called carnivorous plants; the others are referred to as insectivorous plants.
{3}. During the day, they look like regular plants. When they stand at night, they look like plants with teeth. They are cold-hardy and bloom only in the late fall.
{4}. The Venus flytrap has snap traps. The funnel-like structure at the top is used to lure insects. The prey falls into the cup with the lobes and if it tries to escape to the other lobe, it becomes trapped.

The coolest, scariest, and most dangerous carnivorous plant is…

Just a reminder to anyone who wants to keep carnivorous plants, just one drop of water and they move to the next family.