The venus fly trap (Dionaea muscipula) is a carnivorous plant named after the Roman goddess of love. The plant uses a unique trapping mechanism to catch live prey, which it digests over a period of days. Venus fly traps' exotic appearance and unusual method of eating has made it a popular houseplant throughout the world.
Venus fly traps lure in prey by emitting an intoxicating nectar. Bugs land in the trap part of the plant, triggering sensitive bristles that alert the plant of its prey. The trap then closes around the bug and releases enzymes that digest the prey, a process that takes seven to 12 days. Stiff bristles around the trap help to prevent the prey from escaping. Once fully digested, the plant re-opens its trap.
Venus fly traps are slow-growing plants. A plant grown from seed can take up to five years to fully mature, although a plant may live as long as twenty years. Healthy fly traps sprout a flower in spring above the traps, which allow bugs to pollinate the plant without falling into the trap. Venus fly traps go through a period of dormancy in the winter, which is triggered by low nighttime temperatures.
Though many people believe the venus fly trap is a tropical plant, the fly trap is actually exclusively native to North and South Carolina. The fly trap originally could be found only within a 60 mile radius of Wilmington, Carolina, primarily in the region's Green Swamp. The plant naturally grows in the nutrient poor soil of sandy bogs and swamps, the reason for which the venus fly trap has evolved its supplementary carnivorous appetite.
Though the venus fly trap is carnivorous, its prey is limited to insects and arachnids. Venus fly traps are unable to digest fat, so feeding a venus fly trap chicken, beef or any other kind of animal meet will cause the plant to rot and die. Venus fly traps are not harmful to humans and have a small appetite. Feeding the plant more than once a month can weaken the plant's traps and make it difficult for it to feed in the future.
The venus fly trap's popularity as a novelty house plant has led to a major shortage of fly traps growing in the wild. While up to five million venus fly traps may be in cultivation, only about 35,800 are estimated to be growing wild. State laws now prohibit the collection of venus fly traps, although illegal field collecting and natural fires and floods still threaten the species.