Meet 12 Carnivorous Plants That Eat Everything From Insects to Mammals

We all know the basics of the food chain: plants eat sunlight, animals eat plants, and bigger animals eat smaller animals. In the world of nature, though, there are always exceptions, as evidenced by plants that attract, trap, and digest animals (mostly insects, but also the occasional snail, lizard, or even small mammal). On the following images, you'll meet 12 carnivorous plants, ranging from the familiar Venus flytrap to the less well-known cobra lily.

Tropical Pitcher Plant

Tropical Pitcher Plant

Mark Newman / Getty Images

The main thing that distinguishes the tropical pitcher plant, genus Nepenthes, from other carnivorous vegetables is its scale: the "pitchers" of this plant can reach over a foot in height, ideal for capturing and digesting not only insects, but small lizards, amphibians, and even mammals. The doomed animals are attracted by the plant's sweet-scented nectar, and once they fall into the pitcher, digestion can take as long as two months. There are about 150 Nepenthes species scattered around the eastern hemisphere, native to Madagascar, Southeast Asia, and Australia. Also known as monkey cup, the pitchers of some of these plants are used as drinking cups by monkeys (which are too large to find themselves on the wrong end of the food chain).

Cobra Lily

Darlingtonia californica, also called the California Pitcher plant, Cobra lily or Cobra plant.

 mojkan / Getty Images

So named because it looks like a cobra snake about to strike, the cobra lily, Darlingtonia californica, is a rare plant native to the cold-water bogs of Oregon and northern California. This plant is truly diabolical: not only does it lure insects into its pitcher with its sweet smell, but its closed pitchers have numerous, see-through false "exits" that exhaust its desperate victims as they try to escape. Oddly enough, naturalists have yet to identify the natural pollinator of the cobra lily. Clearly, some type of insect gathers this flower's pollen and lives to see another day, but it's unknown precisely which.

Trigger Plant

The trigger plant

Ed Reschke / Getty Images

Despite its aggressive-sounding name, it's unclear if the trigger plant (genus Stylidium) is genuinely carnivorous or simply trying to protect itself from pesky insects. Some species of trigger plants are equipped with "trichomes," or sticky hairs, which capture small bugs that have nothing to do with the pollination process — and the leaves of these plants secrete digestive enzymes that slowly dissolve their unfortunate victims. Pending further research, though, we don't know if trigger plants actually derive any nutrition from their small, wriggling prey or are simply dispensing with unwanted visitors. 


Triphyophyllum peltatum of Botanischer Garten Bonn

  Denis Barthel / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

A species of plant known as a liana, Triphyophyllum peltatum has more stages in its life cycle than Ridley Scott's xenomorph. First, it grows unremarkable-looking oval-shaped leaves. Then around the time it flowers, it produces long, sticky, "glandular" leaves that attract, capture, and digest insects. And lastly, it becomes a climbing vine equipped with short, hooked leaves, sometimes attaining lengths of over 100 feet. If this sounds creepy, there's no need to worry: Outside of greenhouses specializing in exotic plants, the only place you can encounter T. peltatum is if you visit tropical West Africa.

Portuguese Sundew

Portuguese sundew plant

Paul Starosta / Getty Images

The Portuguese sundew, Drosophyllum lusitanicum, grows in nutrient-poor soil along the coasts of Spain, Portugal, and Morocco—so you can forgive it for supplementing its diet with the occasional insect. Like many other carnivorous plants on this list, the Portuguese sundew attracts bugs with its sweet aroma, traps them in a sticky substance called mucilage on its leaves, secretes digestive enzymes that slowly dissolve the unfortunate insects, and absorbs the nutrients so it can live to flower another day. (By the way, Drosophyllum has nothing to do with Drosophila, better known as the fruit fly.)


Roridula gorgonias (flycatcher bush)

 Paul Starosta / Getty Images

Native to South Africa, Roridula is a carnivorous plant with a twist: It doesn't actually digest the insects it captures with its sticky hairs but leaves this task to a bug species called Pameridea roridulae, with which it has a symbiotic relationship. What does the Roridula get in return? Well, the excreted waste of P. roridulae is especially rich in nutrients that the plant absorbs. (By the way, 40-million-year-old fossils of Roridula have been discovered in the Baltic region of Europe, a sign that this plant was much more widespread during the Cenozoic Era than it is now.)


Purple butterwort

Federica Grassi / Getty Images

Named for its broad leaves that look like they've been coated with butter, the butterwort (genus Pinguicula) is native to Eurasia, North America, South America, and Central America. Rather than emitting a sweet smell, butterworts attract insects that mistake the pearly secretions on their leaves for water, at which point they get mired in the sticky goo and are slowly dissolved by digestive enzymes. You can often tell when a butterwort has had a good meal by the hollow insect exoskeletons, made out of chitin, left on its leaves after their insides have been sucked dry.

Corkscrew Plant

Genlisea violaceae (corkscrew plant)

Paul Starosta / Getty Images

Unlike the other plants on this list, the corkscrew plant (genus Genlisea) doesn't much care for insects; rather, its main diet consists of protozoans and other microscopic animals, which it attracts and eats using specialized leaves that grow under the soil. (These underground leaves are long, pale, and rootlike, but Genlisea also has more normal-looking green leaves that sprout above ground and are used to photosynthesize light). Technically classified as herbs, corkscrew plants inhabit the semiaquatic regions of Africa and both Central and South America.

Venus Flytrap

Close-Up Of Venus Flytrap

 Subashbabu Pandiri / EyeEm / Getty Images

The Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) is to other carnivorous plants what Tyrannosaurus rex is to dinosaurs: maybe not the biggest but certainly the most well-known member of its breed. Despite what you may have seen in the movies, the Venus flytrap is fairly small (this entire plant is no more than half a foot in length), and its sticky, eyelid-like "traps" are only about an inch long. And it's native to the North Carolina and South Carolina subtropical wetlands. One interesting fact about the Venus flytrap: To cut down on false alarms from falling leaves and pieces of debris, this plant's traps will snap shut only if an insect touches two different interior hairs in the course of 20 seconds.

Waterwheel Plant

Aldrovanda vesiculosa (waterwheel plant, water bugtrap)

 Paul Starosta / Getty Images

For all intents and purposes, the aquatic version of the Venus flytrap, the waterwheel plant (Aldrovanda vesiculosa), has no roots, floating on the surface of lakes and enticing bugs with its small traps (five to nine apiece on symmetrical whorls that extend down this plant's length). Given the similarities in their eating habits and physiology—the traps of the waterwheel plant can snap shut in as little as one-hundredth of a second—you may not be surprised to learn that A. vesiculosa and the Venus flytrap share a least one common ancestor, a carnivorous plant that lived sometime during the Cenozoic Era.

Moccasin Plant

Pink ladyslipper, or moccasin plant

Benjamin Nietupski / Getty Images

The moccasin plant (genus Cephalotus), originally discovered in Southwest Australia, checks all the appropriate boxes for a meat-eating vegetable: It attracts insects with its sweet scent and then lures them into its moccasin-shaped pitchers, where the unfortunate bug is slowly digested. (To further confuse prey, the lids of these pitchers have translucent cells, which cause insects to knock themselves silly trying to escape.) What makes the moccasin plant unusual is that it's more closely related to flowering plants (like apple trees and oak trees) than it is to other carnivorous pitcher plants, which can likely be chalked up to convergent evolution.

Brocchinia Reducta

Brocchinia reducta

BotBln / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Not quite broccoli, though every bit as off-putting to people who don't care for carnivorous plants, Brocchinia reducta is actually a type of bromeliad, the same family of plants that includes pineapples, Spanish mosses, and various thick-leaved succulents. Native to southern Venezuela, Brazil, Colombia, and Guyana, Brocchinia is equipped with long, slender pitchers that reflect ultraviolet light (which insects are attracted to) and, like most of the other plants on this list, emits a sweet scent that's irresistible to the average bug. For a long time, botanists were unsure if Brocchinia was a true carnivore, until the discovery in 2005 of digestive enzymes in its copious bell.

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Strauss, Bob. "Meet 12 Carnivorous Plants That Eat Everything From Insects to Mammals." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, Strauss, Bob. (2020, August 28). Meet 12 Carnivorous Plants That Eat Everything From Insects to Mammals. Retrieved from Strauss, Bob. "Meet 12 Carnivorous Plants That Eat Everything From Insects to Mammals." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 28, 2023).