Venus flytrap (also referred to as Venus's flytrap or Venus'
flytrap), Dionaea muscipula, is a carnivorous plant native to
subtropical wetlands on the
East Coast of the United States
East Coast of the United States in North
Carolina and South Carolina. It catches its prey—chiefly insects
and arachnids—with a trapping structure formed by the terminal
portion of each of the plant's leaves, which is triggered by tiny
hairs on their inner surfaces. When an insect or spider crawling along
the leaves contacts a hair, the trap prepares to close, snapping shut
only if another contact occurs within approximately twenty seconds of
the first strike. Triggers may occur if one-tenth of the insect is
within contact. The requirement of redundant triggering in this
mechanism serves as a safeguard against wasting energy by trapping
objects with no nutritional value, and the plant will only begin
digestion after five more stimuli to ensure it has caught a live bug
worthy of consumption.
Dionaea is a monotypic genus closely related to the waterwheel plant
Aldrovanda vesiculosa) and sundews (Drosera), all of which belong to
the family Droseraceae.
3.1 Prey selectivity
3.2 Mechanism of trapping
4.1 Proposed evolutionary history
8 In alternative medicine
9 See also
11 External links
In 1760, the
North Carolina colonial governor, Arthur Dobbs, penned
the first written description of the plant in a letter to English
botanist Peter Collinson It was dated Brunswick, Jan. 24,
“The great wonder of the vegetable kingdom is a very curious unknown
species of Sensitive. It is a dwarf plant. The leaves are like a
narrow segment of a sphere, consisting of two parts, like the cap of a
spring purse, the concave part outwards, each of which falls back with
indented edges (like an iron spring fox-trap); upon anything touching
the leaves, or falling between them, they instantly close like a
spring trap, and confine any insect or anything that falls between
them. It bears a white flower. To this surprising plant I have given
the name of Fly trap Sensitive.”
— Arthur Dobbs
This seems to be the earliest notice of the plant and is before the
letters of John Ellis on the subject.
Venus flytrap is a small plant whose structure can be described as
a rosette of four to seven leaves, which arise from a short
subterranean stem that is actually a bulb-like object. Each stem
reaches a maximum size of about three to ten centimeters, depending on
the time of year; longer leaves with robust traps are usually
formed after flowering. Flytraps that have more than seven leaves are
colonies formed by rosettes that have divided beneath the ground.
Curtis's Botanical Magazine
Curtis's Botanical Magazine by William Curtis
The leaf blade is divided into two regions: a flat, heart-shaped
photosynthesis-capable petiole, and a pair of terminal lobes hinged at
the midrib, forming the trap which is the true leaf. The upper surface
of these lobes contains red anthocyanin pigments and its edges secrete
mucilage. The lobes exhibit rapid plant movements, snapping shut when
stimulated by prey. The trapping mechanism is tripped when prey
contacts one of the three hair-like trichomes that are found on the
upper surface of each of the lobes. The mechanism is so highly
specialized that it can distinguish between living prey and non-prey
stimuli, such as falling raindrops; two trigger hairs must be
touched in succession within 20 seconds of each other or one hair
touched twice in rapid succession, whereupon the lobes of the trap
will snap shut, typically in about one-tenth of a second. The
edges of the lobes are fringed by stiff hair-like protrusions or
cilia, which mesh together and prevent large prey from escaping. These
protrusions, and the trigger hairs (also known as sensitive hairs) are
likely homologous with the tentacles found in this plant’s close
relatives, the sundews. Scientists have concluded that the snap trap
evolved from a fly-paper trap similar to that of Drosera.
The holes in the meshwork allow small prey to escape, presumably
because the benefit that would be obtained from them would be less
than the cost of digesting them. If the prey is too small and escapes,
the trap will usually reopen within 12 hours. If the prey moves around
in the trap, it tightens and digestion begins more quickly.
Speed of closing can vary depending on the amount of humidity, light,
size of prey, and general growing conditions. The speed with which
traps close can be used as an indicator of a plant's general health.
Venus flytraps are not as humidity-dependent as are some other
carnivorous plants, such as Nepenthes, Cephalotus, most Heliamphora,
and some Drosera.
Venus flytrap exhibits variations in petiole shape and length and
whether the leaf lies flat on the ground or extends up at an angle of
about 40–60 degrees. The four major forms are: 'typica', the most
common, with broad decumbent petioles; 'erecta', with leaves at a
45-degree angle; 'linearis', with narrow petioles and leaves at 45
degrees; and 'filiformis', with extremely narrow or linear petioles.
Except for 'filiformis', all of these can be stages in leaf production
of any plant depending on season (decumbent in summer versus short
versus semi-erect in spring), length of photoperiod (long petioles in
spring versus short in summer), and intensity of light (wide petioles
in low light intensity versus narrow in brighter light).[citation
Venus flytrap showing its long flower stem
Closeup of flower (c. 20 mm in diameter)
The species produces small, shiny black seeds
The plant's common name refers to Venus, the Roman goddess of love.
The genus name, Dionaea ("daughter of Dione"), refers to the Greek
goddess Aphrodite, while the species name, muscipula, is Latin for
Historically, the plant was also known by the slang term
"tipitiwitchet" or "tippity twitchet", possibly an oblique reference
to the plant's resemblance to human female genitalia.
A closing trap
A time lapse showing
Venus flytrap catching prey
Most carnivorous plants selectively feed on specific prey. This
selection is due to the available prey and the type of trap used by
the organism. With the Venus flytrap, prey is limited to beetles,
spiders and other crawling arthropods. In fact, the Dionaea diet is
33% ants, 30% spiders, 10% beetles, and 10% grasshoppers, with fewer
than 5% flying insects. Given that Dionaea evolved from an
ancestral form of
Drosera (carnivorous plants that use a sticky trap
instead of a snap trap) the reason for this evolutionary branching
Drosera consume smaller, aerial insects, whereas
Dionaea consume larger terrestrial bugs. Dionaea are able to extract
more nutrients from these larger bugs. This gives Dionaea an
evolutionary advantage over their ancestral sticky trap form.
Mechanism of trapping
Closeup of one of the hinged trigger hairs
Venus flytrap is one of a very small group of plants capable of
rapid movement, such as Mimosa pudica, the Telegraph plant, sundews
The mechanism by which the trap snaps shut involves a complex
interaction between elasticity, turgor and growth. The trap only shuts
when there have been two stimulations of the trigger hairs; this is to
avoid inadvertent triggering of the mechanism by dust and other
wind-borne debris. In the open, untripped state, the lobes are convex
(bent outwards), but in the closed state, the lobes are concave
(forming a cavity). It is the rapid flipping of this bistable state
that closes the trap, but the mechanism by which this occurs is
still poorly understood. When the trigger hairs are stimulated, an
action potential (mostly involving calcium ions—see calcium in
biology) is generated, which propagates across the lobes and
stimulates cells in the lobes and in the midrib between them. It
is hypothesized that there is a threshold of ion buildup for the Venus
flytrap to react to stimulation. After closing, the flytrap counts
additional stimulations of the trigger hairs, to five total, to start
the production of digesting enzymes. The acid growth theory states
that individual cells in the outer layers of the lobes and midrib
rapidly move 1H+ (hydrogen ions) into their cell walls, lowering the
pH and loosening the extracellular components, which allows them to
swell rapidly by osmosis, thus elongating and changing the shape of
the trap lobe. Alternatively, cells in the inner layers of the lobes
and midrib may rapidly secrete other ions, allowing water to follow by
osmosis, and the cells to collapse. Both of these mechanisms may play
a role and have some experimental evidence to support them.
If the prey is unable to escape, it will continue to stimulate the
inner surface of the lobes, and this causes a further growth response
that forces the edges of the lobes together, eventually sealing the
trap hermetically and forming a "stomach" in which digestion occurs.
Release of the digestive enzymes is controlled by the hormone jasmonic
acid, the same hormone that triggers the release of toxins as an
anti-herbivore defense mechanism in non-carnivorous plants. (See
Evolution below) Once the digestive glands in the leaf lobes
have been activated, digestion is catalysed by hydrolase enzymes
secreted by the glands.
Oxidative protein modification is likely to be a pre-digestive
mechanism used by Dionaea muscipula. Aqueous leaf extracts have been
found to contain quinones such as the naphthoquinone plumbagin that
couples to different NADH-dependent diaphorases to produce superoxide
and hydrogen peroxide upon autoxidation. Such oxidative
modification could rupture animal cell membranes.
Plumbagin is known
to induce apoptosis, associated with the regulation of the Bcl-2
family of proteins. When the Dionaea extracts were pre-incubated
with diaphorases and
NADH in the presence of serum albumin (SA),
subsequent tryptic digestion of SA was facilitated. Since the
secretory glands of
Droseraceae contain proteases and possibly other
degradative enzymes, it may be that the presence of oxygen-activating
redox cofactors function as extracellular pre-digestive oxidants to
render membrane-bound proteins of the prey (insects) more susceptible
to proteolytic attacks.
Digestion takes about ten days, after which the prey is reduced to a
husk of chitin. The trap then reopens, and is ready for reuse.
Drosera falconeri, with short, wide, sticky leaf traps
Carnivory in plants is a very specialized form of foliar feeding, and
is an adaptation found in several plants that grow in nutrient-poor
soil. Carnivorous traps were naturally selected to allow these
organisms to compensate for the nutrient deficiencies of their harsh
environments by supplementing ordinary photosynthate with animal
The "snap trap" mechanism characteristic of Dionaea is shared with
only one other carnivorous plant genus, Aldrovanda. For most of the
20th century, this relationship was thought to be coincidental, more
precisely an example of convergent evolution. Some phylogenetic
studies even suggested that the closest living relatives of Aldrovanda
were the sundews. It was not until 2002 that a molecular
evolutionary study, by analyzing combined nuclear and chloroplast DNA
sequences, indicated that Dionaea and
Aldrovanda were closely related
and that the snap trap mechanism evolved only once in a common
ancestor of the two genera.
A 2009 study presented evidence for the evolution of snap traps of
Aldrovanda from a flypaper trap like
Drosera regia, based
on molecular data. The molecular and physiological data imply that
Aldrovanda snap traps evolved from the flypaper traps of a
common ancestor with Drosera. Pre-adaptations to the evolution of snap
traps were identified in several species of Drosera, such as rapid
leaf and tentacle movement. The model proposes that plant carnivory by
snap trap evolved from the flypaper traps, driven by increasing prey
size. Bigger prey provides greater nutritional value, but large
insects can easily escape the sticky mucilage of flypaper traps; the
evolution of snap traps would therefore prevent escape and
kleptoparasitism (theft of prey captured by the plant before it can
derive benefit from it), and would also permit a more complete
In 2016, a study of the expression of genes in the plant's leaves as
they captured and digested prey was published in the journal, Genome
Research. The gene activation observed in the leaves of the plants
gives support to the hypothesis that the carnivorous mechanisms
present in the flytrap are a specially adapted version of mechanisms
used by non-carnivorous plants to defend against herbivorous
insects. In many non-carnivorous plants, jasmonic acid serves
as a signaling molecule for the activation of defense mechanisms, such
as the production of hydrolases, which can destroy chitin and other
molecular components of insect and microbial pests. In the Venus
flytrap, this same molecule has been found to be responsible for the
activation of the plant's digestive glands. A few hours after the
capture of prey, another set of genes is activated inside the glands,
the same set of genes that is active in the roots of other plants,
allowing them to absorb nutrients. The use of similar biological
pathways in the traps as non-carnivorous plants use for other purposes
indicates that somewhere in its evolutionary history, the Venus
flytrap repurposed these genes for the purpose of carnivory.
Proposed evolutionary history
Carnivorous plants are generally herbs, and their traps the result of
primary growth. They generally do not form readily fossilizable
structures such as thick bark or wood. As a result, there is no fossil
evidence of the steps that might link Dionaea and Aldrovanda, or
either genus with their common ancestor, Drosera. Nevertheless, it is
possible to infer an evolutionary history based on phylogenetic
studies of both genera. Researchers have proposed a series of steps
that would ultimately result in the complex snap-trap
Larger insects usually walk over the plant, instead of flying to
it, and are more likely to break free from sticky glands alone.
Therefore, a plant with wider leaves, like
Drosera falconeri, must
have adapted to move the trap and its stalks in directions that
maximized its chance of capturing and retaining such prey—in this
particular case, longitudinally. Once adequately "wrapped", escape
would be more difficult.
Evolutionary pressure then selected for plants with shorter response
time, in a manner similar to
Drosera burmannii or Drosera
glanduligera. The faster the closing, the less reliant on the flypaper
model the plant would be.
As the trap became more and more active, the energy required to "wrap"
the prey increased. Plants that could somehow differentiate between
actual insects and random detritus/rain droplets would have an
advantage, thus explaining the specialization of inner tentacles into
Ultimately, as the plant relied more on closing around the insect
rather than gluing them to the leaf surface, the tentacles so evident
Drosera would lose their original function altogether, becoming the
"teeth" and trigger hairs—an example of natural selection utilizing
pre-existing structures for new functions.
Completing the transition, the plant eventually developed the
depressed digestive glands found inside the trap, rather than using
the dews in the stalks, further differentiating it from genus Drosera.
Map of the original distribution of the Venus flytrap
Venus flytrap is found in nitrogen- and phosphorus-poor
environments, such as bogs and wet savannahs. Small in stature and
Venus flytrap tolerates fire well, and depends on
periodic burning to suppress its competition. Fire suppression
threatens its future in the wild. It survives in wet sandy and
peaty soils. Although it has been successfully transplanted and grown
in many locales around the world, it is native only to the coastal
bogs of North and
South Carolina in the United States, specifically
within a 100-kilometer (60 mi) radius of Wilmington, North
Carolina. One such place is North Carolina's Green Swamp. There
also appears to be a naturalized population of Venus flytraps in
Florida as well as an introduced population in western
Washington. The nutritional poverty of the soil is the reason
that the plant relies on such elaborate traps: insect prey provide the
nitrogen for protein formation that the soil cannot. The Venus flytrap
is not a tropical plant and can tolerate mild winters. In fact, Venus
flytraps that do not go through a period of winter dormancy will
weaken and die after a period of time.
Dionaea muscipula 'Akai Ryu', Japanese for 'Red Dragon', in
Plants can be propagated by seed, taking around four to five years to
reach maturity. More commonly, they are propagated by clonal division
in spring or summer. Venus flytraps can also be propagated in vitro
using plant tissue culture. Most Venus flytraps found for sale in
nurseries garden centers have been produced using this method, as this
is the most cost-effective way to propagate them on a large scale.
Regardless of the propagation method used, the plants will live for 20
to 30 years if cultivated in the right conditions.
Main article: List of
Venus flytrap cultivars
Venus flytraps are by far the most commonly recognized and cultivated
carnivorous plant, and they are frequently sold as houseplants.
Various cultivars (cultivated varieties) have come into the market
through tissue culture of selected genetic mutations, and these plants
are raised in large quantities for commercial markets.
The species is classified as "vulnerable" by the National Wildlife
Federation. In 2015, there were estimated to be fewer than 33,000
plants in the wild, all within 75 miles (121 km) of the city of
Wilmington, North Carolina, and all on sites owned by The Nature
North Carolina state government, or the US
In 2014, the state of
North Carolina passed Senate Bill 734 which
classifies the theft of naturally growing Venus flytraps in the state
as a felony. Tougher sanctions and penalties for the theft were also
enacted in December 1, 2014 in accordance with legislation.
In alternative medicine
Venus flytrap extract is available on the market as an herbal remedy,
sometimes as the prime ingredient of a patent medicine named
"Carnivora". According to the American Cancer Society, these products
are promoted in alternative medicine as a treatment for a variety of
human ailments including HIV,
Crohn's disease and skin cancer, but
"available scientific evidence does not support the health claims made
Venus flytrap extract".
Carnivorous plants of North America
List of ineffective cancer treatments
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Wikispecies has information related to Dionaea muscipula
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