The Venus flytrap is a curious plant known for catching and digesting insects that are caught in its snap trap. While this botanical marvel won’t put a dent in the insect population, the intrigue of watching these plants trap and feed on their prey has led to them becoming one of the most widely recognized plant species in the world.
The Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) grows from a bulb-like rootstock. Long, bladed leaves grow from the base to form two lobes at its tip that hinge in the middle. Three trigger hairs grow on each lobe. These short, stiff hairs are super sensitive and are vital for the plant to effectively catch its prey. On the outer edges of the lobes are slender, teeth-like projections called cilia, which act like a cage when the trap is set off to keep the prey contained.
The bogs the Venus flytrap is native to has poor quality soil, resulting in shallow and weak root systems. On top of photosynthesis, the Venus flytrap must consume nitrogen-rich protein from insects and small animals in order to get the full set of nutrients it needs to survive.
HOW THEY WORK
Venus flytraps primarily feed on beetles, spiders, and other crawling arthropods like ants. Occasionally a small frog will fall prey to the snap trap as well. The nectar of the plant emits a sweet scent, which is what lures in unsuspecting insects. When an insect stimulates the trigger hairs, the jaws of the Venus flytrap snap shut in less than a second. Scientists do not fully understand how the traps work, but they believe that the plant may use some type of fluid pressure activated by an electrical current to close each lobe.
Once the trap closes completely, digestive enzymes start to break down the insect’s soft tissues so the plant can consume its nitrogen-rich blood. (Tasty, right?) Venus flytraps actually secrete digestive juices that are similar to those in our own stomachs. Depending on the size of the insect, it may take up to twelve days for the meal to be consumed. Afterward the trap will either reopen or it may wither and die. Typically after three or four feedings the trap will die.
SNAP TRAPS IN THE WILD AND AT HOME
These plants and the ecosystem they live in are fascinating to study, but due to human activity, habitat loss, and fire suppression, the Venus flytrap population is declining. Poaching is also a serious problem for the Venus flytrap, and it is currently a felony in five North Carolina counties.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is evaluating a petition to list this plant as an endangered or threatened plant under the Endangered Species Act. If you happen to see a Venus flytrap in its natural habitat, be sure to enjoy its beauty and mystery while leaving it undisturbed.
It is legal to purchase nursery-bred Venus flytraps to raise at home. When shopping for these plants, be sure to visit a reputable vendor who sells nursery-bred plants that are grown from tissue culture or propagation. Do some research beforehand and learn how to spot the difference between nursery-bred Venus flytraps and those that have been taken from the wild.
The Venus flytrap survives well outdoors in sunny conditions. It is best to grow them in containers, but they can be grown in a pond or fountain as long as they are not fully immersed. Venus flytraps will go dormant over winter and may need to be stored indoors or be protected by other means to prevent damage from frost.