The predator waits patiently while its prey wanders about, unaware that danger lurks just inches away. Settling down to taste some sweet-smelling sap, the unsuspecting prey has made a fatal mistake. Swinging swiftly shut, the jaws of the predator close around its body. The struggle is brief, and soon the plant settles down to digest its tasty meal.
Plants that eat other creatures? It sounds like a genetic experiment gone awry. But there's actually nothing unnatural about it; carnivorous plants have existed on this planet for thousands of years. There are more than 500 different kinds of these plants, with appetites ranging from insects and spiders to small, one- or
two-cell aquatic organisms. To be considered carnivorous, a plant must attract, capture, kill and digest insects or other animal life.
Photo courtesy P. Kronenberger
Venus Flytrap as illustrated by Charles Darwin
One carnivorous plant in particular has captured the public's imagination: The Venus Flytrap (Dionaea muscipula). Many people first see this amazing plant in action during their elementary school years, and are fascinated by its strange dietary habits and unique appearance
Have you ever wondered what would happen if you stuck your finger in the open leaves of a Venus Flytrap, or how the plant got such an odd name? In this edition of HowStuffWorks, we'll answer these questions, plus a bunch more.