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Another way to paraphrase this question is, are Venus flytraps producers or consumers? They can produce their own food and use sunlight through photosynthesis, but they also eat insects. So how are Venus flytraps and other carnivorous plants categorized?
Venus flytraps are autotrophs because they use photosynthesis to produce food and energy. While they consume insects for nutrients, it is not necessary for the survival of the plant..
Why Venus Flytraps are Autotrophs
Autotrophs are producers because they create their own food. Plants including Venus flytraps, use photosynthesis to generate glucose so they are classified as such.
Heterotrophs are consumers because they depend on producers or other consumers for food. The entire animal kingdom are heterotrophs.
So the definitions are clear cut. If an organism produces its own food, it is an autotroph. If it does not, it is a heterotroph.
Venus flytraps – like all plants – can photosynthesize to generate its own body fuel. For all the differences between a Venus flytrap and a typical plant, they all harness sunlight to create glucose.
But Venus flytraps also consume insects and other creatures, so why are they not considered heterotrophs?
Venus flytraps rely on photosynthesis to produce energy needed to survive. Ants, spiders and other insects are digested for nitrogen and other nutrients, and are not essential for survival.
To be clear, Venus flytraps eat insects to grow large traps, but they are not essential. These carnivorous plants can live without bugs but they will grow more slowly.
Venus flytraps and other carnivorous plants feed on bugs because the soil they grow in lack nutrients. These plants evolved to be carnivorous to get additional nutrients. However they can live on photosynthesis alone, so they are called carnivorous autotrophs.
This is actually one of the most common myths about Venus flytraps. These plants do not need insects, but it does help them grow. What they do need is poor soil to flourish, something like Perfect Plants Carnivorous Plant Soil so it can grow naturally.
However it is still better if Venus flytraps consume bugs so they get more nutrition. Just make sure your Venus flytrap does not eat too much and it will grow healthy and large traps.
More Differences between Autotrophs and Heterotrophs
Another way to distinguish between autotrophs and heterotrophs is their composition. A Venus flytrap can live off molecules without any life form processing. They just need basic nutrients, minerals, sunlight and water to live. A heterotroph cannot do that.
Venus flytraps are found in nutrient poor soil. Why this is so is unclear. But what we do know is that the plant evolved to survive.
Venus flytraps will live even without consuming insects or worms. They will not grow as large if they were eating but they will not die.
These plants require nutrients from the soil to live. Combined with photosynthesis that would be enough. With pure autotroph plants that is exactly the case. They do not feed on insects because the soil and the sun are sufficient.
For Venus flytraps, they do not have the benefit of rich soil. The plant is native only to North and South Carolina and in poor soil.
To make up for this deficiency, Venus flytraps turn to insects to satisfy their nutritional requirements. They have developed traps specifically for this purpose. And the more insects they can feed on the larger the trap can get, up to two inches for the B-52 Venus flytrap variant.
So Venus flytraps behave like heterotrophs so they can absorb nutrients in particular nitrogen. But is meat necessary for a Venus flytrap? Heterotrophs need meat to live, but what about carnivorous plants?
The answer is no. Venus flytraps and other carnivorous plants benefit from insects just like animals. However, these plants can survive even without nitrogen from other sources.
How long can Venus flytraps live without eating insects? Well it depends on their environment and how much energy they receive.
If a Venus flytrap is deprived of sunlight and insect nutrients, the plant will not live long. But if the plant receives plenty of sunlight and water, it will live for many years. it does not have to be sunlight either. If your Venus flytrap is indoors or in a terrarium you can use Keelixin Grow Lights to shine on them.
Is a Venus Flytrap an Omnivore?
Venus flytraps are carnivorous. Omnivores eat plants and meat, but a Venus flytrap does not eat other plants so it is a carnivore.
Venus flytraps behave like animals in terms of catching prey, but they are plants. Now the next question that comes up is whether the plant is omnivore.
A lot of research is being done on the subject, but it seems that some carnivorous plants do consume other plants. In that case they can be considered omnivores.
Some carnivorous plants like bladderworts eat algae and microscopic plants. Sundews also eat pollen from other flowers and plants. Indian pipes, mistletoes and other plants absorb nutrients from nearby plant roots as well.
However it can be argued that these plants are just consuming whatever food is available for them. Whatever the case may be, there is no evidence that Venus flytraps eat other plants.
What is well established is that Venus flytraps grow better when they eat insects, particularly nitrogen rich insects like ants and arachnids.
Venus flytraps get all the energy they need from photosynthesis. But what they require from insects are nutrients. Those are two different things and should not be confused with each other.
‘But what would happen if you try to feed plants to a Venus flytrap?
Nothing. When an insect lands in the trap, the hair triggers get stimulated and alert the plant. The more the insect struggles to get out, the tighter the trap gets.
If you put a plant in the trap, it will just lie there. Without any movement, there is nothing to trigger the trap.
Plants also do not have the nutrients that a Venus flytrap is looking for, so it will just ignore what you put there. Being able to differentiate between living and dead organisms is important since each trap can only close five to seven times.
How Venus Flytraps Produce Food
Part of the confusion lies in the use of the word “food”. While Venus flytraps use photosynthesis for food, it is different from what animals consume.
Strictly speaking, Venus flytraps do not produce their own food to eat. Plants do not eat the way that animals do. Photosynthesis is a complex process, but here is a simplified explanation.
Venus flytraps absorbs energy from the sun. This energy is mixed with water and carbon dioxide to produce oxygen and glucose, a type of sugar.
Its the glucose that serves as food for the Venus flytrap, allowing it to perform various activities. But as shown here, this is not food in the ordinary sense, and is more like fuel.
This is the reason why many biologists do not like to use the word food to describe the product of photosynthesis. While glucose serves the same function as food for animals, they are not the same thing.
Venus flytraps are autotrophs because they produce glucose through photosynthesis. The plant will survive whether it eats meat or not. But the plant will die if it does not get any sunlight.
The ability of a Venus flytrap to make its own food is what makes it a producer. But being a carnivore also makes it a consumer. It is this trait that sets it apart from other plants.
If you grow Venus flytraps indoors you can do without any insects. But even if you do not feed it any, chances are its traps will catch the occasional housefly anyway. You can also give Venus flytraps fish food.
None of this will be a problem if your Venus flytrap is outside and is able to catch plenty of bugs. The last thing you want to do is overfeed a Venus flytrap as this could affect its growth.
If you want to cultivate a Venus flytrap, learning as much as possible about the plant is ideal. Knowing whether it is an autotroph or heterotroph can help you avoid mistakes caring for the plant.
My fascination with carnivorous plants began many, many years ago with Venus Fly Traps. Now I am more than happy to impart what I know with other enthusiasts and those who are curious about meat eating plants.