Carnivorous plants can trap, dissolve and digest invertebrates and, in rare cases, small mammals, reptiles and amphibians. They accomplish this through a wide variety of methods. Carnivorous plants grow in areas with nutrient-poor soil and require prey for nourishment.
There are more than 600 identified species of carnivorous plants. Carnivorous plants can be found in nine different plant families and vary widely in appearance and size. They have only their ability to capture and digest prey in common with each other.
Carnivorous plants use five different kinds of traps: snap traps, pitfall traps, suction traps, flypaper traps and lobster pot traps. The most well-known carnivorous plant, the Venus flytrap, uses a snap trap to catch insects: When an insect lands inside one of its hinged pods, the pod snaps shut and traps the insect. The plant then dissolves the insect in enzymes and feeds on the nitrogen produced by this process. Pitcher plants are named for their pitcher-shaped pods, which act as pitfall traps: Once an insect crawls or lands inside the pitcher, digestive enzymes at the bottom capture it. The bladderwort is the only carnivorous plant to catch its prey via a suction trap. This plant is lined with lidded pear-shaped bladders which, when closed, create an interior vacuum. When an insect inadvertently opens the lid by disturbing the hairs around it, the vacuum sucks the insect inside the bladder and traps it. A sundew has leaves covered with sticky hair, which trap an insect much as flypaper traps flies. Corkscrew plants, which grow in water, catch prey through lobster pot traps, named for the way lobsters are caught through specially-designed pots which are easy to enter yet difficult to exit. Insects become trapped inside a corkscrew plant's long, submerged, tentacle-like tubes and are lured into the center of the plant to be digested.
Carnivorous plants are found worldwide near bogs, fens and other high-moisture areas with nitrogen-poor soil.
Carnivorous plants are rare, and many of their habitats are endangered. As their numbers have been depleted through over-collecting, they should not be removed from the wild. Plants can be purchased from reputable nurseries or grown from seeds.
The reputation of carnivorous plants as potentially dangerous to humans is unwarranted. While on rare occasions a carnivorous plant has been large enough to capture and digest an unlucky frog or lizard, most are much too small to present any threat to mammals. However, in 2007, a team of British botanists discovered a variety of pitcher plant in the Philippines capable of digesting a full-grown rat. This is the largest known carnivorous plant.