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

Q: Exactly how do I feed my Venus flytrap?

Dionaea
I want to eat you!
A: If you toss a dead bug into the maw of a Venus flytrap, even if the trap snaps shut, the plant may apparently lose interest in the bug and reopen the next day with the sacrifice unaccepted. Why did the plant reject the food? The plant reacted to your gift of a dead bug as if it were a false alarm. It is rare in the wild for dead bugs to fall into carnivorous plant traps, and your plant is not expecting such a easy prey.

You see, Venus flytraps have a clever trick up their botanical sleeve. This trick ensures they do not waste their time and energy going through the digestion process on traps that were triggered by droplets of rain, prey that escaped, bugs that are too small to bother with, or by humans seeking tawdry thrills. You must understand this trick if you want to successfully provide your plant a diet of dead bugs.

Dionaea
Munch munch!
Look at the flat surface of the trapping leaves of an open Venus flytrap and you will see a few trigger hairs. When these are repeatedly touched by insectoid food, the trap snaps shut. At first, the trap is very loosely closed. You can see the captured bug running back and forth in the trap. (This is always a good time to laugh at its terror. Ha! Ha ha!) If the bug were very small it would escape. If that happened, the trigger hairs (inside the trap) would no longer be stimulated and the trap would reopen in about a day.

This is how the plant avoids wasting time trying to digest sticks, rain droplets, or prey that got away.

But if a bug remained trapped inside its vegetable prison, its continued running about stimulates the trap to close more fully. Digestion follows, and the trap stays closed for several days. When it finally reopens, the sad exoskeleton is all that remains. It will be a dreary sight. But you would be happy. (What kind of person are you, anyway?!)

(I have often wondered what it would be like to be the captured bug. I think it must be like getting trapped in an elevator. If you are ever trapped in an elevator, I recommend you avoid touching trigger hairs. Think what might happen.)

To feed a dead bug to your plant, first drop it into the trap so the trap closes. Easily done. Next, ever so gently squeeze the two lobes of the traps between your thumb and forefinger, as if you were trying to pick up a delicate bit of...something delicate. Squeeze it a few times more, making sure the two lobes come into gentle contact with each other. This will flex all the trigger hairs inside the trap. Another method is to carefully insert a toothpick or blunt bit of wire (like a straightened paperclip) through the gaps in the loosely closed trap. Wiggle your tool a little, so the trigger hairs inside the lobes are stimulated.

If you're having inappropriate thoughts from my description, get your mind out of the gutter.

After a few minutes of this, you will notice the trap settling into the next phase of digestion. Your monstrous task is now complete!

Dionaea
Has anyone seen my
pet crane-fly?
Feeding a live bug to your plant is a little easier. It can be a little frustrating, trying to herd the bug into the trap. But your labors are more than paid back when the plant goes snap! (You ghoul, you.) Once the leaf has closed, the plant will complete the task without your extra help.

I can tell that you are the sort that will relish learning my favorite trick with live bugs. Put the bug into a glass (so it cannot escape) and invert the glass over an extremely cold surface. Those plastic rectangular containers filled with "blue ice" (the things you freeze to keep food in your coolers chilly) are perfect for this. (I'm sorry if you're not from the USA and don't understand the previous sentence---I'm sure Aussies, Brits, and others have different names for these things.)

The chilled bug quickly stops moving and looks dead. Do not overdo this, or else you will indeed kill the bug. The dormant bugs can easily be maneuvered into a Venus flytrap leaf. Snap! Within a few minutes, the bug will awaken to a horrible surprise. Its scuttling motions to and fro will stimulate the trap into the digestion phase. Mwa-ha-ha!

Do this horrible deed with style. If you are using a sleepy cricket, dangle it from a single antenna, and slowly lower its sad little body into a waiting maw. Watch it swing to and fro. Play music that is suitably goth or metallic, Evanescence or White Zombie would do well. Or perhaps wear a lab coat. It would be a good time to recite from memory Edgar Allan Poe's Pit and the Pendulum:

Down--steadily down it crept. I took a frenzied pleasure in contrasting its downward with its lateral velocity. To the right--to the left--far and wide--with the shriek of a damned spirit! to my heart with the stealthy pace of the tiger! I alternately laughed and howled, as the one or the other idea grew predominant.

If you are really looking for cheap horrors, consider that those legs and arms do not carry much in the way of nutritional value to the plant, and really just get in the way. Snip snip, pull pull!

Now time to tease your neighbor's cat!


Page citations: Poe, E.A. 1966; Rice, B.A. 2006a; Schnell, D.E. 1976; personal observation.

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Revised: January 2007
©Barry Rice, 2005