The exotic venus fly trap (Dionaea muscipula), which lures and captures live prey, is endlessly fascinating. The most popular and well known of carnivorous plants, venus fly traps exhibit striking green and red traps that resemble a mouth. These unique plants are popular household plants, providing unusual conversation starters as well as entertainment for the plant collectors of all ages.
Venus fly traps draw in their prey with their sap, which has an attractive odor to insects. An insects lands in the trap, hitting sensitive hairs that trigger the trap to close around the insect. The trap then emits digestive enzymes which break down the insect over a period of a week to 12 days. Upper and lower rows of cilia around the edges of the trap ensure that the insect will be unable to escape.
Though the venus fly trap can be replanted and naturalized in other areas, the fly trap is native exclusively to North and South Carolina in the United States. Even more specifically, the venus fly trap is found only within about a 60 mile radius of Wilmington, North Carolina. The plant is now rare in the wild because of overharvesting due to the demand from consumers. North Carolina now prohibits the removal of venus fly traps from their natural habitat in the state's Green Swamp.
While the concept of a carnivorous plant may be unsettling, venus fly traps are completely harmless to humans (and pets). Venus fly traps are limited to bugs that are one-third of their size or smaller. Venus fly traps certainly can't digest animal meat (a piece of sliced deli turkey would cause it to rot), and even large bugs may cause a threat: if part of a bug is sticking out of the trap, bacteria will thrive and cause a deadly infection to spread through the fly trap.
When venus fly traps flower in the spring, they grow a stalk about six inches above the traps. This allows bugs to safely pollinate the flower without endangering themselves. Flowering requires a lot of energy on the part of the plant, so the traps may start to look a little sickly. Fly trap owners who would rather have healthy traps than flowers can simply nip flower heads off, without harming the fly trap.
Though there are an estimated three to five million venus fly traps living in cultivation via nurseries and households, there are only an estimated 35,800 left living in the wild. Many domestic venus fly traps have a short life span, as they are often bought for novelty without in depth knowledge of their care requirements. Collecting venus fly traps from the wild is now illegal by North Carolina law, and their conservation status is listed as "vulnerable."