Carnivorous plants: types, species and what they feed on

John Henrique Nov 25, 2020

There are more than 600 known species of carnivorous plants. Also called insectivorous plants, they evolved independently in different families and orders, constituting a varied and intriguing group of vegetables.

Carnivorous plants are known to digest mostly small insects such as ants, bees, beetles, and others.

In some regions, however, there are reports of carnivorous plants attacking spiders, frogs, and on rare occasions, even small birds.

Types of carnivorous plants

The strong, vibrant colors of carnivorous plants are usually attractive to their prey. They need this extra food to complement photosynthesis, as they usually grow in nutrient-poor and waterlogged soil.

The way they capture prey is the main difference between the types of carnivorous plants. These are divided into three: the cage type, the suction type, and the sticky leaves type.

Cage trap

These plants use a cage-shaped trap to catch prey. They can be recognized by their two shell-shaped leaves coated with strong bristles that close upon contact with the prey; as well as tiny nectar glands.

The attack of this type of plant is incredible. In the resting position, its leaves are open at a 45- or 60-degree angle.

On its inner surface, it is filled with microscopic digestive glands. Each leaf has three small trigger filaments that, when touched twice, or one after the other, causes the cage trap to close.

Suction trap

These plants have a passive trap mechanism. Its vibrantly colored leaves are perfect for attracting prey.

They also have an intoxicating nectar that disorients the prey and causes it to fall into its tube. Inside, the digestive glands release enzymes or bacteria that digest the insect.

Another characteristic of these plants is the strong smell resulting from the decomposition of previous animals and insects, which helps to attract new prey.

The trap’s interior may even have its own complex ecosystem, composed of algae, fungi, bacteria, and several insect larvae that resist digestive enzymes.

Sticky leaves

With a semi-active trap, these plants are distinguished by their green and red colors and their leaves that have adhesive glands to capture prey.

Sundews are particularly beautiful, as they have shiny drops that sparkle in the sunlight. Its leaves are flat and have several tentacles or glands on the upper surfaces.

These tentacles are especially important, as they communicate with each other when the prey comes into contact with the plant. The movement of the tentacles then occurs towards the prey.

The most popular species of carnivorous plants

Although these plants are considered “weird” or even “aggressive” in the popular imagination, many people around the world grow them for their beautiful flowers.

Dionaea muscipula

Dionaea muscipula is the most popular carnivorous plants around the world. Also known as “Venus flytrap”, because they mainly attack these small insects, they fall into the cage type.

Native to southeastern North America, its leaves are between 10 and 15 centimeters (4 and 6 inches) in size.

The beautiful white flowers of the Venus flytrap are unfortunately useless, and it is advisable for those who grow them at home to remove them as soon as they bloom, as it consumes a lot of the plant’s energy.

Aldrovanda vesiculosa

These aquatic carnivorous plants are also known as waterwheel plants. It captures aquatic invertebrate animals with a mechanism similar to the Venus flytrap, and therefore also falls into the cage type.

This plant has a unique and fascinating white flower that opens for just a few hours. They appear above the water level supported by short spiral-shaped pendulums.

Nepenthes bicalcarata

This plant, which uses a suction trap, became very popular for inspiring a Pokémon, more specifically Victreebel.

Native to the island of Borneo, located between Malaysia and Indonesia, this species has thorns that have been extensively studied by biologists.

They believed that this mechanism could serve both to attract insects to their “mouth”, and also to prevent mammals, such as monkeys from the region, from “stealing” the contents.

These plants have a paniculate inflorescence. The branches on the flower stem are up to 40mm long and produce up to 15 flowers.

Drosera capensis

This beautiful carnivorous plant native to South Africa uses sticky leaves and is usually the one chosen for cultivation. This is because seed germination of this plant is generally easy.

To capture the prey, it wraps around the insect. The digestive glands start to act and this process can take around 30 minutes.

Its flowers appear in the African summer (between the months of December and January) and produce a large number of violets, reaching up to 50.

Pinguicula vulgaris

These plants use sticky leaves to catch their prey. They are usually light yellow-green in color. Its name comes from the Latin word pinguis, which means fat.

They are generally discreet and can be confused with others around them. This, however, does not happen in their flowering season, when they are distinguished by their flowers with purple or white petals and their long stem.

Carnivorous plants do not eat people

Scene from the 1986 film Little Shop of Horrors.
Scene from the 1986 film Little Shop of Horrors.

Although this is common in cartoons and films, this type of representation is wrong, obviously.

Many videos on Youtube show people who grow carnivorous plants, especially the Venus flytrap, putting their finger on the trap and triggering it.

The slight pressure will never be enough for your finger to get stuck and the digestive enzymes of these plants will never be strong enough to hurt you.

Despite this, it is not advisable to put yourself in this type of situation.

In pop culture, the movie Little Shop of Horrors (1986) tells the story of the florist Seymour who gets a carnivorous plant that speaks and feeds on human flesh.

Related topics:

Carnivorous plants Plants

Written by John Henrique

John has a degree in IT and is the founder of Hyperaxion. He is a science enthusiast and can usually be found reading a book, stargazing, or playing video games.


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