The Carnivorous Plant FAQ v. 11.5
- courtesy of -
The International Carnivorous Plant Society

Q: What should I feed my Venus flytrap? Hamburger meat?

A: I often see Venus flytraps for sale in grocery stores, hardware stores, or other unlikely venues. Being a little snotty by nature, I like to ask the sales clerks about "those flytraps", playing the role of a curious but uninformed customer. The sales clerks usually tell me the plants are easy to grow, as long as they are given a dish of water and a little hamburger meat from time to time.

What do they think they are selling? Kittens?

The information you get from sales staff is all wrong, of course. If you feed a Venus flytrap a bit of hamburger meat, it will probably die. Venus flytraps expect bugs. Feed them anything else, and they will not like it. There is far too much non-bug energy and protein in cow-meat. Emu meat is no better.

If you want to feed your plants, you must find bugs. Bugs, bugs, bugs. I recommend caterpillars, flies, spiders, crickets, slugs, and very small children. I do not recommend ants (the leaves are often damaged afterwards), moths (too much fuzz), butterflies (too cute), or beetles (too much sturdy exoskeleton). A warning about caterpillars and other leaf-crunching arthropods--make sure that these or other bugs you feed to your plant cannot eat their way out! FAQ-reader Crispin S. told me that a caterpillar nibbled its way out of several of his plant's traps before finally being defeated. Too bad---usually caterpillars are fab food.

FAQ-reader Aaron K-Z told me that he fed a firefly to his Venus flytrap because he said, "what the heck." (That right there is the blind monkey-curiosity we all have that leads to human cloning and genetically modified organisms!) He said that while the firefly was still alive, the trap blinked on and off. Eventually, the trap died, so maybe fireflies are not the best source of flytrap food. Man, I wish fireflies lived where I do. I grew up with them in the midwest, but they're not here in California.

I have been told that maggots make good food for Venus flytraps. (This marvelous little factoid came to me from an anonymous source I will refer to only as Steve Evanchuck. Last I heard, he was in Nebraska, frightening his neighbors.) Apparently you can buy maggots at fish bait stores (and other quality maggot outlets). The maggots are packaged in sawdust. Disgusted? Wait, it gets better! The maggots can usually escape from the traps, so the Steve Evanchuck (remember, Nebraska) says that the maggot must first be "pierced with a toothpick." This tells me, among other things, that there are weirder people in the universe than me. It is also a good reminder to be careful about who you borrow toothpicks from.

When feeding your plants, do not give a trap any food that is bigger than about 1/3 the size of the trap. If you give the plant a bug that is too large, bacterial rot will often set in and kill the leaf. Plants in the wild and really well grown plants in cultivation can eat larger prey, but for beginners, the 1/3 trap size is a good rule for prey dimensions.

The FAQ has other bug-food options described here and there---it is an issue of some interest to carnivorous plant growers, so I have a lot more information on this topic. Maggots! Can you believe it?

Page citations: Rice, B.A. 2006a; reader contributions.

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Revised: January 2007
©Barry Rice, 2005