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Pitcher plants naturally grow in wetlands, but they can easily adapt to life in a garden or in the case of nepenthes, indoors. If you are growing these plants for the first time and wondering if they should eat crickets, this guide is going to provide the answers.
Pitcher plants eat crickets to boost their nutrients and energy. Once a cricket is trapped in the pitcher, its tissues are dissolved by digestive fluids and absorbed by the plant.
Why Crickets are Good for Pitcher Plants
Pitcher plants eat insects to make up for the lack of nitrogen in the soil. Nitrogen, along with other elements, are available in crickets and other insects so pitcher plants consume them.
Carnivorous plants use photosynthesis to make glucose or plant food, and they do this with light, water and air. While glucose is essential, plants still need nitrogen and other nutrients to remain healthy and grow fast.
Nitrogen and other elements are found in the soil. But pitcher plants only grow in nutrition deprived grounds. This does not eliminate their need for nitrogen and other nutrients, so pitcher plants have to find another source. Planting nepenthes in rich soil is going to harm them so use only th right soil like Spring and Stone Carnivorous Soil.
Crickets, flies, spiders and other insects possess these essential nutrients. They also proliferate in the natural habitats of pitcher plants so they became prey.
When a pitcher plant eats a cricket, its tissues are transformed into nitrogen and other nutrients. The elements are stored and used by the plant similar to nutrients obtained in soil.
Will Pitcher Plants Die Without Eating?
Most pitcher plants can probably survive without eating bugs if they produce enough glucose. But nutrients provide so many benefits they should eat at least once a month.
Carnivorous plants will thrive in warm, wet, humid locations with plenty of insects and bugs. Optimum conditions for instance, will help sarracenia survive winter and come back the following year.
Nutrition and glucose are both important for plants. Pitcher plants get them from crickets and bugs instead of the soil, but the benefits are similar.
Humans that eat healthy food and take supplements are stronger than those who do not. This is applicable to pitcher plants too. Flowers and leaves take a lot of energy to create. In addition, sarracenia and nepenthes have to make nectar, traps and liquids to catch bugs.
Glucose alone will not be enough especially if light is limited or humidity is low. By eating crickets and other prey, sarracenia and nepenthes gain additional resources necessary to perform these tasks. Nutrients also provide protection against fungus and harmful bacteria.
How Pitcher Plants Trap Crickets
Carnivorous plants grew traps to seek nutrients which are not present in the ground. Pitcher plants have developed a particularly unique mechanism to catch prey. Nepenthes is used in the following example but it applies to sarracenia as well.
It starts with nectar, a sweet scented substance produced by nepenthes. Nectar is strategically located at the pitchers to lure prey. If a cricket catches a whiff of the scent, it will look for the source.
When a cricket hops onto a nepenthes to get the nectar, it will fall into the pitcher because the leaves are wet from the nectar. Rainfall makes pitchers even more slippery for insects.
Pitcher plant traps are designed for insects and other small bugs. These plants sometimes eat bees and even snails, but they try to avoid that because those are pollinators.
The Pitcher Plant Digestive Process
Once an insect falls into a pitcher, viscous liquids keep the bug from lying of crawling back up. This will work with small prey, but large ones can escape from it.
Digestive enzymes are secreted to melt the insect. The insect is turned into goo so the plant can eat it. The digestive process might last several days depending on the size of the prey. When it is done, the plant gains nutrients and is put to use.
the same enzymes are used to digest other foods such as Picky Neb Dried Mealworms or fish food. Of course in these cases there is no need to catch any prey. You just drop the food into the pitcher and its liquids dissolve it.
Sarracenia and nepenthes pitcher plants can only make these traps if they have the resources. You can think of this as a cycle: pitcher plants consume insects to gain nutrients and they use those nutrients to produce more traps. The traps draws insects and the cycle repeats.
Do I Have to Feed Crickets to Pitcher Plants?
Pitcher plants outdoors do not need feeding. Their nectar is sufficient to catch the attention of crickets and other insects in your garden. Indoor carnivorous plants should be fed at least once a month or once a week.
Pitcher plants, in particular nepenthes, can be grown indoors. However you have to make sure it receives 6-8 hours of sunlight, temperature is around 65-85 F and the humidity is at least 40%.
A healthy pitcher plant can eat 2-4 crickets a month, a feeding frequency of once a week. But nepenthes will still thrive when fed every two weeks.
If the plant is in a suitable location, infrequent feeding will not be a problem. Pitcher plants require nutrition but not a lot. In fact the bigger concern would be overfeeding. Most pitcher plants will not release digestive juices when they have enough nutrients. But some species might and this could lead to energy wastage.
In addition, leaving too many bugs in the pitchers will just cause them to decay and produce a stink. If your pitcher plant looks healthy being fed once a month, there is no need to give it more food.
You do not have to worry about these if you have outdoor pitcher plants. Insects will make their way to the traps because of the nectar. Do inspect the pitchers every now and then to make sure the plant is catching and eating prey. If you see half eaten remains of bugs, your plant is doing just fine.
Pitcher Plant Care Tips
Getting enough crickets for your pitcher plant is just one aspect. To get the most out of them and ensure longevity, they have to be grown properly.
- All pitcher plants need moist soil. Water the plant from the top until the soil is damp. Nepenthes does not like to sit in water though some sarracenia species can. As long as the potting media is moist, your plant will be fine.
- The higher the temperature, the more humidity is needed. The lowest should be 40% though some species can deal with 35% if it is not too hot.
- If your pitcher plant is not eating and its pitchers have no liquids, water more often and increase humidity to 50% or higher.
- Do not pour water into the pitcher. Let the plant create its own liquids and it will attract all kinds of insects.
- Pitcher plants that go dormant do not eat. They look very sick but do not be alarmed. It is part of their life cycle and they will come back when winter ends..
- You can use grow lights to grow pitcher plants indoors. Artificial fixtures are also a good alternative if natural light in limited during cold or rainy seasons.
- Never use fertilized soil on pitcher plants. In fact you should never use rich soil for any carnivorous plant.
Also keep in mind that appetites vary among the species. One nepenthes may eat several crickets but another variant may prefer to digest only a few. It really does not matter as long as the plant is getting nutrients.
You can give live or dead crickets to pitcher plants. You do not have to worry about how many crickets to give. Just drop one and observe how the plant reacts. If the plant responds well and eats it, you can feed it a few more.
One of the biggest myths about pitcher plants is they are hard to feed. That is not true at all. They will consume crickets and other insects with no preparation needed, making them ideal houseplants. So if your nepenthes has a few crickets in their pitchers, that is nothing to be concerned about.
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.