Carnivorous Plants

Venus Flytrap
The leaves of the Venus flytrap are highly modified with a trigger mechanism to trap insects. Credit: Adam Gault/OJO Images/Getty Images

Carnivorous Plants

Carnivorous plants are plants that capture, kill, and digest animal organisms. Like all plants, carnivorous plants are capable of photosynthesis. Since they usually live in areas where the soil quality is poor, they must supplement their diet with nutrients gained from digesting animals. Like other flowering plants, carnivorous plants use tricks to entice insects. These plants have developed specialized leaves that work to lure and then trap unsuspecting insects.

There are several genera of carnivorous plants and hundreds of carnivorous plant species. Here are some of my favorite genera of carnivorous plants:

Flytraps - Dionaea muscipula

Dionaea muscipula, also known as the Venus flytrap, is probably the most well known of the carnivorous plants. Insects are lured into the mouth-like leaves by nectar. Once an insect enters the trap it touches tiny hairs on the leaves. This sends impulses through the plant triggering the leaves to close. Glands located in the leaves release enzymes that digest the prey and the nutrients are absorbed by the leaves. Flies, ants, and other bugs are not the only animals that the flytrap may snare. Frogs and other small vertebrates may sometimes become trapped by the plant as well. Venus flytraps live in wet, nutrient-poor environments, such as bogs, wet savannas, and swamps.

Sundews - Drosera

Species of plants from the genus Drosera are called Sundews.

These plants live in wet biomes, including marshes, bogs, and swamps. Sundews are covered with tentacles that produce a sticky dew-like substance that glitters in the sunlight. Insects and other small creatures are attracted to the dew and become stuck when they land on the leaves. The tentacles then close around the insects and digestive enzymes break down the prey.

Sundews typically capture flies, mosquitoes, moths, and spiders.

Tropical Pitchers - Nepenthes

Plant species from the genus Nepenthes are known as Tropical Pitcher plants or Monkey Cups. These plants are typically found in the tropical forests of Southeast Asia. The leaves of pitcher plants are brightly colored and shaped like pitchers. Insects are lured to the plant by the bright colors and nectar. The inside walls of the leaves are covered with waxy scales that make them very slippery. Insects may slip and fall to the bottom of the pitcher where the plant secretes digestive fluids. Large pitcher plants have been known to trap small frogs, snakes, and even birds.

North American Pitchers - Sarracenia

Species from the genus Sarracenia are called North American Pitcher plants. These plants inhabit grassy marshes, swamps, and other wetlands. The leaves of Sarracenia plants are also shaped like pitchers. Insects are lured to the plant by nectar and may slip from the edge of the leaves and fall to the bottom of the pitcher. In some species, the insects die when they drown in water that has accumulated at the bottom of the pitcher. They are then digested by enzymes that are released into the water.

Bladderworts - Utricularia

Species of Utricularia are known as Bladderworts. The name comes from the tiny sacs, which resemble bladders, that are located on the stems and leaves. Bladderworts are rootless plants found in aquatic areas and in wet soil. These plants have a "trapdoor" mechanism for capturing prey. The sacs have a small membrane cover that acts as a "door." Their oval shape creates a vacuum that sucks in tiny insects when they trigger hairs that are located around the "door." Digestive enzymes are then released inside the sacs to digest the prey. Bladderworts consume aquatic invertebrates, water fleas, insect larvae, and even small fish.

More About Carnivorous Plants

For more information about carnivorous plants, take a look at the Carnivorous Plant Database and The Carnivorous Plant FAQ.