Food

Maggots

Most people feed their Venus flytraps with flies. Those disgusting little bugs that buzz everywhere and are generally a nuisance are both a good size and nutrient level for your plant. However there are issues with feeding flies to your plant including:

  • they’re hard to get into the trap without killing them first
  • if you place them in with a pair of tweezers you need to forcefully wrench the tweezers out which risks damaging your plant
  • They leave a hideous carcass behind
  • Catching them is difficult

Maggots on the other hand have none of the above problems. They’re easy to get into the trap, just pick them up and drop them, they leave no carcass behind as their squishy bodies are almost entirely digested by the trap and they’re slow moving so are easy to catch.

Of course maggots don’t generally live around the home unless you happen to live in a cesspool, in which case I suggest turning your computer off and cleaning your house from top to bottom right now! If you don’t live in a cesspool and are planning to feed your Venus flytrap with maggots you are either going to have grow your own, track down a rotting piece of meat covered in them or buy some. Maggots can often be purchased at pet shops or fishing supplies stores.

Growing your own maggots is pretty easy though. Just get a small jar, place a piece of meat in there (chicken works good) and leave it outside for a while. Eventually a few flies will land on it, leave them there for a few hours to make sure they’ve done their thing (laying eggs) at which time you should get the flies out of there (shaking the jar usually works). Pour a little water inside, or add some wet cotton wool and put a lid on it with a few holes punched in the top. After about a week you should have some nice healthy looking maggots growing in some gooey sludge. Scoop the maggots out, wash them with a little water to get the smelly rotten meat off and take them to your plant. Gently place the maggots in the center of one of the traps and they’ll usually trigger the trap immediately. The trap will close around the maggot and voila, it’s feeding time :) About a week later your trap will open and magically there will be no dead carcass! At most there will be a shiny looking gleam on your trap.

Some people claim to have found that their maggots crawl out of the trap so they have held them inside the trap with a toothpick, however I have never personally had any troubles with just dropping them in. In fact even when they move, they usually move towards the middle of the trap which lets the leaves clamp totally shut, encasing the maggot inside the trap ready to be digested.

Maggots are my preferred food for my flytraps due to the ease of feeding and the lack of yucky bug skeletons. However growing/finding maggots is a rather disgusting activity and not something I recommend doing if bad smells bother you a lot. I grow and process my maggots in a smell proof fume hood in my lab, so the grossness factor isn’t so bad for me. But growing maggots at home is likely to be a rather unpleasant affair and you may be better of purchasing them.

 

Best fly catching methods

So your plant isn’ catching enough flies? Or perhaps you are never around when it does. At any rate, at some point you may wish to catch flies to feed directly to your plant.Fly spray

Fly Spray?

The simplest way to catch flies is to spray some fly spray around, this works great and any flies in a locked room will usually die within 10 mins or so with some regular household variety fly spray from your local super market. However … remember that the fly must move inside the trap or your plant will just spit it back out again. So you’ll either need to wriggle the plant around manually which risks damaging your plant (not recommended) or find a better fly catching method.

There is another problem associated with fly spray. Venus flytraps are very sensitive to chemicals and do not grow well when it exposed to them. However as long as you aren’t spraying your plants directly they should be able to handle it (in theory – don’t shoot me if your plant dies because of this!). The amount of fly spray needed to kill a fly is negligible, it is more likely to do you harm than your plant and they are designed to kill insects and pretty much nothing else. You are also making your plant a lot less likely to kill flies by itself if you get fly spray near it. Of course this doesn’t matter if you aren’t spraying anywhere near where your plant lives and you intend to hand feed it for the rest of it’s life.Fly swatter

Swatter

If you are going to stun the little buggers then you’d better make sure you don’t hit them too hard. Swatting is a risky practice and you’re liable to kill them before they even reach your plant.Jar

Jar Trapping

There’s two approaches to ‘jar trapping’. You can either run around like an idiot winging your arms wildly trying to capture them, or you can stick a bit of rotting meat inside and leave it outside till they come to visit. Either way, all you need to do is stick the lid on and whammo you have a nice fly ready for feeding to your plant :) ‘Jar trapping’ is certainly the most recommended method of capturing flies as it doesn’t damage them during the process.

Cultivation

The cultivation of flies will be part of seperate post coming soon to flytrapgrowing.info.

 

Venus Flytrap Skeletons

Unsurprisingly, Venus flytraps are not able to digest the hard exoskeletons of most bugs. Only the proteins and other digestable ’squishy’ bits of the bugs your traps catch (or are fed) are digested. Digestion of the ’squishy’ bits is catalysed by enzymes secreted by glands in the lobes of each trap. Most traps finish the digestion process within 10 days. After this they open back up, leaving the skeletal remains of the bug.

The number of bugs your traps can digest before dying depends on how healthy your flytrap is. As a general rule of thumb, most household Venus flytraps catch two to three bugs before turning black and dying, but if you keep your plant in tip-top condition, then they may be able catch many more.

 

Can I overfeed my Venus flytrap?

Overfeeding your plant with bugs which are too big to completely fit in it’s traps will definitely harm it. However feeding your plant lots of tiny bugs on a regular basis is usually not going to kill it.

In general you shouldn’t force feed your plants more than once a week. Of course if your plant is outside or you have lots of bugs in your house then it may catch significantly more than this of it’s own accord. This isn’t a big drama though, the worst that will happen is that your traps will die, turn black and then regrow again. Some growers have reported that over feeding leads to smaller weaker traps due to rapid regrowth.

 

What should I feed my venus flytrap?

Firstly, Venus flytraps are carnivorous. However, this does not mean that they can eat any old thing you decide to stick in it. You can not feed it any of the following:

  • McDonalds
  • Chocolate
  • Human flesh – gross!
  • Steak
  • Bread
  • Fish
  • Chicken
  • Chips/fries
  • Vegetables
  • plus most other things

Venus flytraps have evolved to consume only bugs. They’re very picky and if you feed them anything else they won’t like it. The best bugs to use are soft squishy bugs without super strong exoskeletons (too hard to digest). Ants and slaters are bad due to their hard exoskeletons and moths are too fuzzy to digest. Some of the best bugs to use are:ant and a caterpillar

  • flies
  • crickets
  • cicadas
  • caterpillars (be careful they don’t eat their way out though!)
  • spiders

It is crucial that you don’t feed your plant anything bigger than about 1/4 the size of the leaf, any bigger and you risk damaging the plant or the plant rejecting the bug. If you’re careful you can go up to about 1/2 the size of the leaf but be careful.

Maggots are good food too, but that’s a topic for another post.

 

Manual feeding of your Venus Flytrap

If you are growing your Venus flytrap outside, then chances are you will never need/want to feed your plant as it will happily catch enough bugs on it’s own. However, if you keep your plant inside and particularly if it is in a terrarium, then chances are it may never catch it’s own prey and you will need to consider manually feeding it There are two main approaches to manually feeding your plant.

Shoving the bug in the trap

You can either poke a bug into the trap with your fingers or a pair of tweezers, this can potential be harmful to your plant as you can damage the surface of the trap with the tweezers or your fingers, however if you are careful this shouldn’t be too much of a problem. The video below demonstrates the process of feeding by tweezers.

Placing the bug near the trap

If you have your plant inside a terrarium, then one of the easiest ways to feed your plant is simply to place a few bugs inside the terrarium and wait for your flytrap to do it’s thing. This removes any risk of you damaging the plant by poking it with tweezers or your fingers. The video below is of a Venus flytrap catching it’s prey the old fashioned way.

Temporary stunning

This is a slightly more time consuming method, but it works quite well. Although you may be able to capture bugs in a jar, you may have difficulty in grabbing hold of a wing, leg etc. to feed them to your plant by. This is a particular problem for flies which can be quite difficult to catch without losing them.

The most common (and usually most convenient) method is to cool the bugs down by placing them in the fridge. This will knock them out (or at least slow them down) so that you can grab hold of them properly.

A more exotic method and that which we use for our own plants here at flytrapgrowing.info, is to stun the bug with chemicals. Do not soak your bug in any random chemical you happen to find as whatever you expose the bug to you will also be exposing to your flytrap! Venus flytraps do not like chemicals so it’s best to avoid exposing them to anything nasty. The most convenient way to stun them with chemicals is to place bug in a jar containing a small amount of diethyl ether, this will very promptly knock out your fly ready for you to grab hold of them, they will wake up approximately 30 seconds later. Do not let your bug touch the diethly ether liquid as it is the fumes which will knockout the bug, not the liquid itself. Exposing the bug to the liquid will kill it which isn’t the aim here (bugs need to be alive to trigger the trap). Diethyl ether is extremely volatile (boiling point of only 30ºC) so the chemicals will quickly evaporate from your plant and cause no damage to it. You could also try other solvents such as acetone, methanol or dichloromethane. Remember to always be careful when handling volatile solvents and follow safety guidelines appropriately.

Once you’ve got hold of them, you can either place them directly into a trap and hope that they’ll wake up shortly and trigger the trap, or keep hold of them until they do wake up then use the same method described above in the “Shoving the bug in the trap” section.

If you can only find dead bugs

Dead bugs are no good for your plant. You must have live bugs to trigger the trap. Not only does the trap need to close, but the bug needs to repeatedly trigger the trap after the initial closure to ensure that the trap does not reopen.

If you are living in some freakishly clean place where no bugs live, or you are just plain lazy and/or need a quick bug eating fix, then make sure that when you drop your dead bug in that you manually manipulate the traps with your fingers for a few minutes afterwards to make sure that the trap did indeed get triggered properly and isn’t going to cough the bug back up after a day. Be very careful not to damage the trap in the process. This is far from optimal however and you really should be feeding it live bugs.

And remember, your plant will normally survive perfectly well with no bugs, so don’t panic if you or your plant can’t find a

 

Mmmm, yummy frogs

Although your Venus flytrap is able to catch small frogs, lizards, worms and any other bizarre animals you may choose to feed it, you shouldn’t! There are too many nasty nutrients in these animals than your plant can handle. You plant should only feed on bugs, bugs and more bugs.And here for your viewing pleasure is some footage of the type of animal your Venus flytrap should be feeding on …

Catching flies by hand

Aside from the yuck factor, if you are skilled enough to catch a fly with your bare hands then you will be able to catch the little morsels of food whenever you see them. Years of video game playing and analysing the behaviour of flies will likely help, but if it’s too late for that then here is a handy list of tips which I learned from tygerland.net.

Stationary fly catching

  • attack from behind
  • don’t close your hand by smacking the fingers and palm together as you will likely make a mess
  • instead close your hand tightly and quickly but leave a tight channel for the fly to fit inside

Mid-air fly catching

  • you must have patience, speed and vision
  • catch the fly where it is going, not where it is otherwise you will miss
  • watch it, learn it’s path and flight style
  • move your hand quickly from the shoulder outwards to the point of connection
  • use the same hand closing technique as for stationary flies
  • anticipate the fly’s direction and velocity so that you meet it a 5 cm or so from where it was when you began your attack
  • ideal distance for closure is just before the arm straightens
  • practice, practice, practice!

And before you ask, no I don’t catch flies with my hands, yuck! And if you do follow this advice, make sure finish up by washing your hands.