The word ‘carnivorous’ means something that eats meat. Normally we think of animals such as tigers and lions as being carnivorous but actually, there are some plants that are carnivorous too!
The Venus fly trap (Dionaea muscipula) is probably one of the best known. It is absolutely fascinating because it is only small, growing to around 10cm high, but it has a voracious appetite for flies and other bugs which it catches and then uses chemicals to dissolve and turn into food.
The part of the fly trap that catches the insects is actually a leaf. It has two sides that are hinged together with teeth on them and the inside is red and secretes a mucus which helps to attract the insects. Also in the inside are three very sensitive hairs which can tell the difference between a living thing, such as a fly, and a non-living thing such as a raindrop.
Once the insect, such as a fly, is attracted to the red area of the fly trap, if it touches two of the three hairs, the two sides will quickly close trapping the fly inside. As the fly moves around inside, the trap tightens and digestion begins and can take up to ten days.
It is possible to trigger the Venus fly trap to close with a pencil but the problem with this is that the plant isn’t taking up any nutrients and might die because it has nothing to feed on.
Venus fly traps are often available at garden centres and whilst there are many in cultivation, there are relatively small numbers now growing in their natural habitat which are boggy swamp lands in areas along the east coast of the United States. They are not tricky to grow yourself but just make sure that they are always in wet soil, have full sun and are in a very humid spot. Growing them in an aquarium or terrarium is a great idea. If you grow your fly traps outside, they will get plenty of food but if it is indoors, you will have to feed it 2 or 3 flies each month. If they are dead flies, wiggle them around in the trap to get it to close. Don’t fee it steak though as this will give it indigestion!
Venus fly traps attract flies and other insects, trap them and then digest them! They are one of the most interesting carnivorous plants.