8 Carnivorous Plants That Eat Bugs

Carnivorous plants are an endless source of fascination for scientists and non-scientists. These plants derive nutrients from capturing and digesting animals, usually insects and other arthropods. The possibility that plants could eat animals has been debated for many years and has inspired several books and movies.

Carnivorous plants are spread throughout various taxa in angiosperm clades, linked by the botanical carnivory ecological niche. True carnivory is thought to be represented by more than a dozen genera, having evolved independently about 12 times in five distinct orders of flowering plants. 

Aspects of their evolution, including rapid responses to nutrient requirements and additions, and development preformation, make carnivorous plants well-suited for addressing basic questions in biology, such as diet preference and population forecasting.

This article examines some carnivorous plants that eat bugs.

1. Venus Flytrap

Closeup of the insect trapping structure of a Venus Flytrap plant isolated on a white background.
The Venus flytrap is one of the most common carnivorous plants native to subtropical wetlands.

©sawinimages/Shutterstock.com

Venus Flytrap
Scientific Name Dionaea muscipula
Color Varieties Red, white, and green
Height 6-12 inches (15-30 cm)
Habitat Wetlands

The Venus flytrap is one of the most common carnivorous plants native to subtropical wetlands. Its main prey consists of insects and arachnids. It has a trapping structure formed by the leaves’ terminal portion, often triggered by sensitive micro receptors on their inner surfaces. An action potential is triggered via an electric network when an unsuspecting bug crawls along the leaves and its tiny hairs.

2. Purple Pitcher Plant

Purple pitcher plant (Sarracenia purpurea)
The purple pitcher plant is a carnivorous plant of the family Sarraceniaceae.

©Fox Traveler/Shutterstock.com

Purple Pitcher Plant
Scientific Name Sarracenia purpurea
Color Varieties Green, red, and purple
Height 6-18 inches
Habitat Prefer wet sunny locations and grow in nutrient-poor, acid bogs

The purple pitcher plant is a carnivorous plant of the family Sarraceniaceae. Like other pitcher plants, Sarracenia purpurea derives its nutrients through prey capture. It captures unsuspecting bugs with a pitfall trap that relies heavily on a micro-structured, slippery surface.

3. Cobra Lily

Carnivorous Plants: Cobra Lily
The cobra lily is a carnivorous plant in the family Sarraceniaceae.

©Arty Alison/Shutterstock.com

Cobra Lily
Scientific Name Darlingtonia californica
Color Varieties Range from yellow to purplish-green
Height Grow up to about 2 feet tall
Habitat Native to swamps in mountain areas of southern Oregon and northern California

Cobra lily, best known as the California pitcher plant, is a carnivorous plant in the family Sarraceniaceae. It’s commonly found in bogs and seeps with cold running water. Unlike other members of the pitcher plant family, Darlingtonia californica has a distinct closed top and does not collect water, a mechanism used by other pitcher plants to create a digestive brew that dissolves the insects. Instead, cobra lilies are well adapted to physiologically pumping water into the trap to keep the fluid at an ideal ion concentration.

The translucent cobra lily leaves often confuse bugs. The unsuspicious bugs think they’re escaping the trap when in fact, they’re moving deeper inside.

4. Yellow Pitcher Plant

Pitcher Plant, Swamp, Bog, Forest, Green Color
The yellow pitcher plant traps bugs using a rolled leaf.

©iStock.com/cturtletrax

Yellow Pitcher Plant
Scientific Name Sarracenia flava
Color Varieties Have bright yellow flowers and green trumpet-shaped leaves
Height 18-36 inches
Habitat Wet pinelands and bogs

The yellow pitcher plant is another pitcher plant in the family Sarraceniaceae. Like most pitcher plants, It traps bugs using a rolled leaf. Its leaves fill with rainwater, and the uppermost part of the leaf is dilated to prevent excessive rainwater from diluting the digestive secretions within the pitcher. Once a bug flies in, it cannot fly out.

5. Monkey Cup

Tropical pitcher plants or monkey cups in forest
Monkey cup is a carnivorous plant in the family Nepenthaceae.

©iStock.com/GinkMusaico

Monkey Cup
Scientific Name Nepenthes
Color Varieties Green, brown, and red
Height Climbing stems can grow up to 49 feet, depending on the type
Habitat Tropical regions of Southeast Asia, Australia, and Madagascar

Monkey cup, also known as the tropical pitcher plant, is a carnivorous plant in the family Nepenthaceae. The name “monkey cup” is derived from the fact that monkeys were thought to drink rainwater from these pitcher plants. 

Money cup acts as a passive insect trap and produces numerous groups of digestive enzymes to break down bugs and acquire nutrients upon enzymatic digestion.

6. Butterwort

Carnivorous Plants: Butterwort
Butterwort is a carnivorous plant in the family Lentibulariaceae.

©IvanaStevanoski/Shutterstock.com

Butterwort
Scientific Name Pinguicula
Color Varieties Blue, violet, or white with a yellow, greenish, or reddish tint
Height 2-6 inches when it flowers
Habitat Moist areas, such as fens, bogs, wet heaths, and rock crevices

Butterwort is a carnivorous plant in the family Lentibulariaceae. It has sticky hairs that help lure, trap, and digest bugs. Apart from eating bugs, butterwort can also acquire nutrients from pollen landing on their leaves. It’s thought that the Pinguicula glands undergo autophagy in response to prey capture.

7. Alice Sundew

Alice Sundew, Australia, Bog, Botany, Bright
Alice sundew is a carnivorous plant in the family Droseraceae.

©iStock.com/Karin de Mamiel

Alice Sundew
Scientific Name Drosera aliciae
Color Varieties Red, orange, yellow, or metallic violet
Height Up to 10 inches 
Habitat Prefers moist habitats with acidic soils. South Africa, 

Alice sundew is a carnivorous plant in the family Droseraceae. Like the Drosera capensis, Drosera aliciae is one of the most commonly cultivated sundews. It produces attractive scapes of reddish flowers, which play a key role in attracting bugs. 

Thirsty bugs are attracted to what seems like raindrops on the leaves. However, the watery substance is actually a glue-like material that traps insects. After digesting its prey, the leaves unfurl to set another trap.

8. Large Floating Bladderwort

Utricularia inflata illustration
Bladderworts have bag-like bladders that serve as traps.

©Britton, N.L., and A. Brown / public domain – License

Large Floating Bladderwort
Scientific Name Utricularia inflata
Color Varieties Bright yellow flowers
Height About 8 – 40 inches
Habitat Aquatic environments, such as swamps, ditches, and lakes

The large floating bladderwort, commonly known as inflated bladderwort or swollen bladderwort, is a large aquatic carnivorous plant of the family Lentibulariaceae. The state of Washington lists it as one of the most problematic aquatic plants due to its dense mat-forming habit. It’s among the few invasive carnivorous plants.

Bladderworts have bag-like bladders that serve as traps. They are about the size of a pinhead, used to trap very small animals like tiny crustaceans, newly hatched tadpoles, and mosquito larvae.

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