The Venus Fly Trap might be the most iconic of carnivorous plants, but it's certainly not the only plant that kills prey. Let's learn a little more about these badass botanicals in honor of our new Venus Flytrap shirt, shall we?
Besides the Venus Fly Trap, just how many of these carnivorous plants are out there?
OMG, so many — literally hundreds of varieties! There are at least 583 plant species that attract, trap, and kill prey. There are over 300 additional species that share some but not all of these characteristics. Nature is wild, yo!
The most probable explanation is that these types of plants evolved in nutrient poor soil, so they evolved to eat mostly insects and arthropods to make up for what their soil lacks.
How exactly do these pernicious plants kill? They're stationary and bugs can move!
There are 5 different trap methodologies that carnivorous plants employ.
- The Venus Flytrap uses a "snap trap" which means its pods snap shut when it detects movement, ensnaring insects inside with no escape route.
- Pitcher plants trap prey in a rolled leaf that contains digestive enzymes.
- Some plants use "flypaper" traps, a sticky mucilage that traps their prey.
- There are also bladder traps, which suck prey with a bladder that generates an internal vacuum.
- Lastly, there are "lobster traps" which force prey to move towards a digestive organ with inward pointing hairs.
Since our badass botanicals don't really have the capacity to chew their food in the traditional sense they usually digest their prey alive with digestive enzymes. Creepy! That said, some of these plants drown their prey in digestive fluids before dissolving them completely.
If I want to keep one of these plants do I have to feed it flesh?
Not necessarily; a carnivorous plant that catches no insects will rarely die on its own, though the deprivation may impair growth. People most often kill their carnivorous plants with under-watering or watering with tap water, though the second most common cause of death is prodding the Venus Flytrap to watch it open and close, or feeding it inappropriate items, such as bits of hamburger. These plants have a specific diet, so in most cases go bug or go home!
If you're going to keep a carnivorous plant know that they like bright light, nutrient poor soil, and high humidity. You'll also want to be sure to protect them from parasites and mold.
So what about the Audrey 2? Is she out there and will she eat my annoying neighbor who listens to world music at 3am?
The Audrey 2 of Little Shop of Horrors fame is a myth (as far as we know) but the largest observed carnivorous plant is the Nepenthes Rajah. This thug of the plant world is native to Borneo and employs a pitcher-like trap to hold water and digestive fluid. This plant has been observed even drowning and eating small vertebrates such as rats, frogs, lizards and birds, though insects are still its most common fare.
Tell me something naughty about these plants!
Although the most common name for the Venus Flytrap is "Dionaea muscipula," historically it went by the name of "tipitiwitchet" or "tippity twitchet". This is thought to be a reference to the plant's resemblance to human female genitalia. Georgia O'Keeffe would approve.
Bonus fun fact:
Matt briefly owned a Venus fly trap as a tween, but it didn't end very well for the plant since this was pre-internet and the care instructions it came with were about as wordy as IKEA assembly instructions. While he wasn't poking it incessantly or feeding it human food, he definitely transplanted it into nutrient-rich soil, tried feeding it already-dead flies he'd find around the house, and probably didn't give it as much sunlight as it needed, since he bought it at the tail end of summer right before the days got shorter. Sorry, green buddy!
Peace, love, and tacos,