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Carnivorous Plants: Insect Eating Plants

Angela, though not a natural green thumb, has studied gardening in order to better care for her yard.

Albany Pitcher Plant

Weird Plants That Eat Meat

The idea of carnivorous plants is fascinating, causing images like those in the play The Little Shop of Horrors, where a plant grows so large and begins to protect the one person who cares for it... by eating people who hurt him. Okay, maybe that is a very sick idea of amusement, but millions watch the movie/play every year.

Fascination with carnivorous plants has been around for centuries. Those who used to practice witchcraft used the digestive enzymes for potions, exorcisms, and even medicines. Maybe the fascination with these plants results from the appearance of a backward food chain, where plants eat animals instead of the other way around.

Albany Pitcher Plant

Five Bloodthirsty Ways a Plant Traps Its Prey

Although you won't see these plants chewing and gulping as Audrey II (the plant's name from Little Shop of Horrors) is seen doing, they do trap and digest meat in the form of small insects which land on them or fly near them. If asked what a carnivorous plant looks like, most people would imagine a Venus Fly Trap. There are actually over 550 known kinds of carnivorous plants that find their nutrients in many ways. Some are active captures of their prey, while others will be passive and only capture those unlucky enough to land on them. Aside from just active and passive meat-eaters, there are five specific ways a carnivorous plant can capture its food: pitfall, flypaper, vacuum, snap trap, and lobster pot traps.

Pitcher Plants Use a Pitfall Trap

Pitcher Plants are one type of meat-eating plant that uses the process of pitfall traps to capture their prey. They are cylindrical and often have a flap above the plant. This flap overhangs the plant and prevents the insect from instantly flying out of it to have a better chance of landing and getting trapped.

Once a bug flies inside, if they choose to land on the interior wall of the plant, it will stick to a pool of bacteria known as digestive enzymes, similar to our digestive enzymes. The pool of bacteria will not allow the bug to leave and will instantly start breaking the insect down into nutrients that the plant will use to grow.

To the right, you can see how easily the insects fall victim to this trap. Feel free to click on the plant, and look at all the tiny black specks. Those are all the different bugs that have found themselves inside these plants, which is a passive way the plant eats because it does not actively change its position when the bug lands.

Many different pitcher plants come in different shapes, patterns, and colors. You will see many photos of different types shown at the bottom of this article.

Butterwort Plant

A Butterwort Plant: uses its flypaper like leafs to trap its prey.

A Butterwort Plant: uses its flypaper like leafs to trap its prey.

Flypaper Trap

The flypaper trap is another very passive form of these meat-eating plants, or what Charles Darwin called Insectivorous Plants. Just as the name implies, they use flypaper material to trap their prey. One example is on the plant you see to your right. By enlarging the picture, you will better notice tiny dots on the plant that appear to be dirt on your screen on the plant itself. Those are small little bugs. These plants solely rely on their sticky leaves to trap and absorb insects. The bugs will usually land on them to eat themselves and find that they cannot move, then die. The plant then absorbs the nutrients from these bugs. The most recognizable of these flypaper trap plants are the Butterwort plant.

Venus Flytrap Plant

Snap Trap

If Audrey II had been an actual plant, you would have found that she utilized a rapid leaf movement or snap trap, which would be one of the more active plant traps. Many of us are very familiar with the Venus Fly Trap, as it is one of the most well-known types of carnivorous plants. It is well known for being bizarre-looking and the bizarre acting plant. When triggered, what appears as a jaw but just two lobes close in on its prey like a steel trap. Three hairs inside the "mouth," and when touched, trigger the trap. A Venus Fly Trap can only trap five times before it dies away, but the plant will continue to flourish!

To the right, you can see how similar the Venus Fly Trap looks like a real mouth, which is why it is the most notorious insectivorous plant. The ominous hair-like structures trap the insect inside, in which eventually, the insect will land inside the trap. Once the bug lands, the trap will close and remain closed until the contents of the insect have been completely absorbed.

Bladderwort Plant

A Vacuum-like Bladder Trap

Another active plant is a bladderwort plant; this is different from the butterwort plant, which uses the flypaper trap. A bladderwort plant has a unique way of trapping bugs. It is usually a flowering type plant, and on its stem, there will be bladder-like enzymes, which are similar to the same enzymes found inside a pitcher plant. The bladder-like enzymes act as a vacuum to trap the prey. The bladder will have a tiny hole with a hinged door where the plant will suck an insect into the internal parts. These kinds of plants often grow on waterlogged soil and lack roots. Because they don't get their primary source of nutrients deep within the soil, they need to get these from the bugs they ingest.

Lobster Pot Trap

The final way a plant can trap insects is through a lobster pot trap. The lobster plant will have an opening that is very easy for a bug to enter. Still, it is nearly impossible to exit due to downward-pointing bristles that encourage the prey's onward movement into the plant. Another belief is that these insectivorous plants act like Bladderworts because there is a vacuum type effect due to water movement within the plant. For this reason, it is sometimes classified as passive but also active. So imagine a horror story, where someone enters a cave that they cannot escape. And though they feel like there is no opening on the other side, they keep going deeper into the cave in hopes of finding an exit. In this case, the cave, or plant, literally eats the bug alive.

Meat-eating plants will forever capture people's imagination and curiosity. Someday, when I don't have plant-eating cats, I will talk my husband into buying one for me. I will have to settle for a plant-free house, with an occasional visit to local gardens! Due to my fascination, if you have any further information on these ominous-looking plants, please share. I'd love to hear from you!

Citation

  • Carlquist, Dr. Sherwin, et al. “Carnivorous Plants / Insectivorous Plants.” Botanical Society of America, 2005, www.botany.org/Carnivorous_Plants/.
  • Michael Mathieson Senior Zoologist and Curator, Queensland Herbarium. "Death traps: how carnivorous plants catch their prey." The Conversation. February 07, 2018. Accessed February 26, 2018. http://theconversation.com/death-traps-how-carnivorous-plants-catch-their-prey-14811.
  • "Pitcher plant." ScienceDaily. Accessed February 26, 2018. https://www.sciencedaily.com/terms/pitcher_plant.htm.

Questions & Answers

Question: Do plants like Venus flytraps have venom to sting and kill the prey?

Answer: No, they do not have a stinger or venom. They rely on luring their prey inside their mouth where they close around the prey, and the pray cannot escape. It soon dies and is absorbed by the plant. Other insect eating plants rely on a very sticky interior that the bugs are unable to escape from.

Question: What is a sundew?

Answer: This is a carnivorous plant I did not cover in the article. They are very uniquely shaped, with what looks like tentacles. They trap their prey through a sticky substance on the outside. Once the insect is stuck to them, the bug will eventually die, in which case the plant then absorbs the nutrients from the insect, essentially eating it. In other words, they are most similar to the flypaper trap.

© 2010 Angela Michelle Schultz

Comments

Diepam Patil on July 19, 2019:

I like your plants photos

Dr Noor on June 01, 2019:

Are these plants available as pet pot plants for general gardening cultivation?

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on April 16, 2012:

I find the idea that plants need protein absolutely fascinating as well. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

Keely Valero on April 15, 2012:

Thanks this helped! I was doing a project on the common buterwort and this was so interesting. Thanks. :)

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on May 11, 2011:

My husband was there a couple years ago, and said all over they were selling fried bugs on a stick. Him and a couple of his friends tried them. We have videos. It's pretty funny watching the guys reactions. :)

Harlan Colt from the Rocky Mountains on May 10, 2011:

LOL, no thanks, I'll stick with General So's Chicken or Moo Goo Gia Pan. LOL... bugs on a stick... no thank you.

- Harlan

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on May 06, 2011:

Oh, yes, they are full of protein. If you visit China, you can have bugs on a stick. I hear it tastes like chicken? LOL

Harlan Colt from the Rocky Mountains on May 06, 2011:

I wish these would grow around my area but they do not.

- Nice hub tho

- Harlan

@ Moneyglitch... I have never thought of bugs as ... meat. Ick. LOL

gaba on September 25, 2010:

que pex y la bladder trap

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on March 31, 2010:

I know I totally agree with you. At the gardens where I am a member, they have a whole room of what I refer to as the "blood thirsty plants." LOL!

Money Glitch from Texas on March 31, 2010:

I've always been fascinated with carnivorous plants! They are both beautiful and creepy at the same time. I think I can't get pass the fact that they are meat lovers. Of course, the Little Shop of Horrors movie didn't help the situation. LOL! :)

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on March 29, 2010:

Thanks, I haven't seen that movie... but I'm intrigued. I might have to see if I can netflix it!

Elena from London, UK on March 29, 2010:

Interesting Hub - The plants look so pretty, yet so deadly. It reminded me of an old film "seeds of evil".

Great Hub though. :)

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on March 26, 2010:

Thanks!

Michael Shane from Gadsden, Alabama on March 26, 2010:

Awedome hub! Thank ya' for the follow!