How to Grow
The Venus Flytrap

The Venus Flytrap Care Guide at FlytrapRanch.com

Feeding Venus Flytraps

Should I Feed My Venus Flytrap?

Most people don't usually think in terms of feeding their plants, except to fertilize the soil they grow in. Don't do that with Venus Flytraps, because fertilizing the soil can kill them, but on the other hand, placing some live prey into the jaws of the trap …

Although Venus Flytraps do catch and digest insects and sometimes small animals (like very small frogs) they get most of their food and energy from the sun. Like other plants, Venus Flytraps photosynthesize, which means that their leaves convert sunlight (or artificial light) into sugars that they store in their rhizome (swollen leaf bases) underground or use to grow or to fuel their continuous or periodic activities, including digesting insects.

However, although most of their food comes from the sun and Venus Flytraps do not need to be fed, they do get a range of nutrients from the prey they catch that neither sunlight nor their typically very nutrient-poor soil provides, and can be healthier and grow larger, faster, when they have insect food as well as plenty of light. When placed outdoors, Venus Flytraps can and often do capture insects. So while it's damaging or even fatal to a Venus Flytrap to fertilize its soil or spray its leaves with fertilizer, it's OK to manually feed an insect to a Venus Flytrap every so often.

What Should I Feed My Venus Flytrap?

Insects are best, and Venus Flytraps are accustomed to eating live prey. The motion of the insect inside the trap triggers the the closing mechanism and causes the trap of the Venus Flytrap to seal tightly before flooding the inside of the trap with an enzyme-rich fluid to digest the insect over the course of perhaps four to ten days.

Because a Venus Flytrap is triggered by movement, it can't tell the difference between a dead insect and a rock. If what's inside the trap is not moving, the Venus Flytrap doesn't think that it has caught anything of interest, and the trap opens again in a day or so. Therefore, if a person feeds his or her Venus Flytrap a dead fly (which is fine) it may be necessary to gently massage the outside surfaces of the trap three or more times, every twenty to thirty minutes or so, to stimulate the trigger hairs inside and cause the trap to seal tightly and begin to digest the insect. If a live fly is placed inside the trap and the trap closes, the movement of the fly will cause the trap to seal.

If one wishes to feed a fly to a Venus Flytrap, it can be helpful to chill (not freeze) the fly for a few minutes, in a jar inside a refrigerator for example, to make the fly sluggish, easier to handle and less likely to escape from either the human or the Venus Flytrap.

"Can I feed my Venus Flytrap hamburger?" No. The fat in meat will probably cause the trap of a Venus Flytrap to turn black and die, and perhaps the entire leaf too. "What about other things? What about a tiny piece of dry old skin, a bit of scab, a cut fingernail, a booger?!— A few crumbs of cake?" You can try lots of different types of "food items," but Venus Flytraps are probably most happy with flying insects and some small non-flying creatures such as mealworms. If you do give your Venus Flytrap some "exotic" food, it might be best to experiment on just one trap and wait to see the results, so that if what you have fed the Venus Flytrap gives it indigestion or has an adverse effect, it won't damage or kill the entire plant.

When or How Often Should I Feed My Venus Flytrap?

Healthy Venus Flytraps sometimes catch so many insects that most or even all of their traps are closed. But when manually feeding Venus Flytraps, it's best to feed only one or two traps at a time. In addition, there are certain times or certain circumstances during which one should not feed a Venus Flytrap.

A Venus Flytrap requires and expends some of its stored food to digest an insect. In most cases, what the Venus Flytrap gets in return (the nutrition from the digested parts of the insect) is greater and more important to the plant (like certain minerals that are deficient in the soil) than the energy it uses to obtain that nutrition. But a sick or very small Venus Flytrap, or one that has recently been transplanted or is coping with various stressful conditions (too little water and too much heat for example, or too much water and too little light) can become overstressed if too many of its traps are trying to digest insects at the same time. In those cases, it's often better not to feed a Venus Flytrap until it is healthy and vigorous again.

Don't feed a Venus Flytrap if—

In addition, Venus Flytraps usually don't eat much insect food during their yearly winter dormancy. The traps are usually very sluggish or don't close at all during dormancy, but the plant still needs plenty of light, because while it may not trap much or any food, the leaves still produce food through photosynthesis (making sugars from sunlight) and stores that food all winter in its rhizome underground, for a healthy reserve to use during its later rapid growth when the Venus Flytrap emerges from dormancy in the Spring.

Stephen Doonan, FlytrapRanch.com