Can Plants Consume Insects?

When you imagine a jungle adventure, what comes to your mind? Swinging around from tree to tree on vines? Beautiful birds soaring through the air? Monkeys and other exotic creatures roaming through the dense forest?

Or do you think of plants? Probably not, right? After all, plants aren’t the most thrilling living beings in the world. Or are they? They simply stay there and absorb water and nutrients from the soil and the sun, right? Or do some plants do more?

Would you believe that there are some plants that consume insects and even small animals occasionally? It’s true! We refer to these extraordinary things as carnivorous plants. Although most carnivorous plants consume small insects, larger carnivorous plants in tropical areas have been known to capture rats, birds, and frogs.

One carnivorous plant that many students are familiar with is the Venus flytrap. Its unique “jaws” can be triggered by flies and other small insects. Once its jaws close on its prey, the Venus flytrap releases enzymes that break down the insect into a goo that can be absorbed for its nutrients.

There are several other examples of carnivorous plants. The pitcher plant, for instance, has leaves resembling champagne flutes, which can capture insects. Sundews, on the other hand, ensnare their victims with sticky tentacles. Bladderworts grow in ponds and streams, where they suck in their prey like underwater vacuum cleaners.

Carnivorous plants tend to grow in areas where the soil is very thin and lacks necessary nutrients. To survive, these plants must find other sources for the nutrients they need. Trapping and digesting insects allows these unique plants to survive. Unfortunately, human and environmental factors continue to threaten the limited environments where you can find wild carnivorous plants.

For many people, the idea of a plant consuming an animal seems very strange. In fact, more than one person has turned the concept into a scary story or movie. Don’t worry, though, carnivorous plants don’t pose any danger to humans. Unless you’re the size of a tiny insect, you don’t have to worry about falling prey to a Venus flytrap or a pitcher plant.

Give It a Go

After today’s Wonder of the Day, you might view plants a little differently. Keep learning more about interesting plants by exploring one or more of the following activities with a friend or family member:

  • The Smithsonian highlights five locations in the United States where carnivorous plants can be found in their natural habitat. Have you ever had the chance to see one of these plants in the wild? If so, what would you do if you came across one?
  • Were you aware of the fact that carnivorous plants can be incredibly beautiful? If you haven’t seen many examples of carnivorous plants, take a look at Getty Images’ Carnivorous Plant Photo Gallery online. Which plants do you find the most visually appealing? Do any of them appear scary to you? If you were an insect, would you be attracted to these plants? Why or why not?
  • In this Wonder’s gallery, you may have learned about how certain plants capture their food. Explore how some carnivorous plants trap their prey with the help of these videos: Cape Sundew, Pitcher Plant, Corpse Flower, Venus Flytrap. After watching at least two of these videos, gather your art supplies and create a brand new carnivorous plant! Don’t forget to write a paragraph explaining how your plant captures and digests its food.

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