Why do carnivorous plants eat meat

The floral department at our local grocery store has a clearance section. Since I love having fresh flowers in my home, I typically survey this section for good deals. About a month ago, I found Venus Flytraps marked down to next to nothing.  I bought one and I’m proud to say that it’s still going strong.

Venus flytrap

I’ve always been fascinated with the so-called “carnivorous plants” which include Sundews, Pitcher Plants, and Butterworts. 

What interests me so much about them is that they seem like some sort of mash-up of a plant and an animal. After all, we are so used to plants being the producers of the world—using photosynthesis to create food (glucose)  out of nothing but sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water. As producers, plants form the basis of nearly every food chain on the planet. Carnivorous plants seem to “turn the tables” as they act as consumers, gobbling down insects, frogs, and even small mammals.

A Sundew plant

A common misconception about carnivorous plants is that they “eat” insects and other small animals for the same reason you or I eat food—as a source of energy.  

That’s actually not true.  

Like other plants, carnivorous plants are photosynthetic and make their own food.  In fact, one reason that many people aren’t able to keep their Venus Flytraps alive for long is because they don’t expose them to adequate sunlight because they assume it isn’t necessary.  Without enough sunlight, the plants can’t conduct photosynthesis and die.

My Venus flytrap growing toward the sun

So if carnivorous plants don’t ingest insects for food, why do they do it?  

A Venus flytrap growing in its natural environment.

In nature, each of these carnivorous plants grow in nutrient-poor conditions.  For instance, the Venus Flytrap is indigenous to regions of North and South Carolina where it grows in swamps and marshes.  Living in such waterlogged environments, the plants are unable to absorb the nutrients they need from the soil like most plants do. In particular, nitrogen is lacking from the soil in which each of these plants grow.  Since nitrogen is essential for all living things, the plants must have an alternate way to acquire the element.

Carnivorous plants “eat” insects and small animals in order to supply the nutrients (including nitrogen, sulfur, and phosphorus) they need to survive.

Here is a really cool video that explains the process by which Venus Flytraps capture their prey.  

Warning:  if watching flies getting captured and ingested makes you uncomfortable, you’ll probably want to skip watching.

Continue reading to learn some additional facts about Venus Flytraps and other carnivorous plants.

Fascinating Facts About Carnivorous Plants

-There are three types of carnivorous plants:

  • Snap traps- Like the Venus Flytrap, snap traps capture their prey by snapping shut.  The traps operate using an intricate sensing mechanism that discerns when prey of an adequate size is within reach.
  • Pitfall traps- Like the Pitcher Plant, pitfall plants are designed so that prey slip and fall into the plants’ fluid-filled pitchers and drown.
  • Flypaper traps– Like the Sundew, flypaper traps secrete a sweet-smelling, sticky substance that attract insects.  When insects move across the surface of the plant, they are trapped.

-The carnivorous portion of the plants (the parts responsible for trapping prey) are actually modified leaves.

-The opening and closing of the traps of snap trap plants takes tremendous energy.  Each “trap” on a Venus Flytrap can only close 4 or 5 times before dying.

I hope you enjoyed learning about carnivorous plants.  If you’d like to learn more, or if you’re interested in growing your own carnivorous plant, you can read more here:  New to Carnivorous Plants? Start here!

Is there a topic you’d like me to cover?  I’d love suggestions!  Post them in the comments below.

A common misconception about carnivorous plants is that they “eat” insects and other small animals for the same reason you or I eat food–as a source of energy. That’s actually not true. So if carnivorous plants don’t ingest insects for food, why do they do it? #plants #botany #plantscience #venusflytrap #carnivorous plants #themoreyouknow #science

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