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Pitcher plants are beautiful to look at but menacing to insects and all kinds of small bugs. Watching them catch prey, you are probably wondering if these plants can actually eat humans. After all they consume meat, so are humans in any danger around pitcher plants? Or are they completely harmless?
Pitcher plants do not eat people because their digestive fluids cannot consume human flesh. The average pitcher plant is only 6 to 35 inches tall so it is too small to cause humans any harm.
Can Pitcher Plants Hurt Humans?
No, pitcher plants cannot harm humans in any way. In fact it is possible for humans to hurt pitcher plants, even unintentionally, by constant touching.
Pitcher plants do not pose any risk to humans. It is not dangerous and is safe to grow outdoors or indoors. Whether you prefer nepenthes or sarracenia, rest assured you, your household and pets are not in any danger.
These plants cannot harm humans because their digestive fluids are not toxic. You can touch the liquid without irritating your skin. Those fluids can dissolve insects but humans are safe around it.
The idea that pitcher plants can hurt humans is understandable. It is a carnivorous plant, therefore it consumes meat. That is true, pitcher plants eat meat just like Venus flytraps, sundews and butterworts. But that does not mean carnivorous plants are dangerous.
Pitcher plants only eat insects and other small prey. They can also eat fish food and other foods like Fluker’s Freeze Dried Reptile Treats. In fact it is a good idea to feed them especially if they cannot catch insects.
Just like Venus flytraps, pitcher plants consume meat because they grow in nutrition poor soil. These plants need the nitrogen, phosphorus and other elements to grow. Since they cannot get it from the soil the plants extract it from insects instead.
Pitcher plants only have to eat once a week (or even monthly), which shows how little meat they require. A tiny insect is more than enough for the average nepenthes.
Pitcher plants are so safe you can drink the water from an unopened pitcher, and in countries like Malaysia it is used to prepare snacks. They fill the cupped leaves with food and others even drink from it. You may have even seen monkeys drink from the plant.
Even if pitcher plants were to grow ten times its size, humans are still safe. They will only eat when needed. They evolved to eat bugs and not humans so there is nothing to worry about.
Do Pitcher Plants Bite Human Fingers?
This is another question that comes up. What will happen if you put your finger in the pitcher? Will the trap close in? Will it bite you?
When an insect falls into the pitcher, the liquid dissolves it. But this liquid is not harmful to humans or large animals.
The pitcher does not bite when an insect (or finger) goes through it. This is not like a Venus flytrap which shuts its trap after catching prey (though Venus flytraps are harmless to humans too).
Instead the pitcher serves as a cavity to hold its digestive fluids and any bugs that fall into it. The pitcher rim is slippery enough so a bug will probably fall into the hole. When it does the digestive fluids start to dissolve it.
There are no sharp teeth that eat the bug, and the pitcher will not suddenly snap shut. When a prey plunges into the pitcher its digestive enzymes will slowly break the tissues down and absorb it. So for instance, you can put a nepenthes in a Yimorence Terrarium and drop food into its pitchers without worry.
Can Large Pitcher Plants Bite You?
The largest pitcher plant in the world is the Attenborough pitcher plant, which can grow to 5 feet (1.5 meters) tall. Each pitcher has an average diameter of 12 inches (30 cm).
Those pitchers are large enough not just for fingers but hands. Some people speculate the Attenborough pitcher plant feeds on rats. However scientists have determined the plant consumes mainly insects and bugs.
So even a pitcher plant the size of the Attenborough will not bite you. Just like regular nepenthes, these pitchers are often filled with rainwater and other liquids.
In spite of its size the Attenborough pitcher plant does not pose any risk. It is possible that some rats may have fallen into its trap, but that is more likely due to accident, not because they are prey.
Why Pitcher Plants are Safe For Humans
Pitchers plants are carnivorous, but they only eat small insects. The pitcher does not bite and its digestive enzymes, while fatal to bugs, are completely harmless to humans and animals including pets.
Misconceptions about carnivorous plants in general stems from fictionalized depictions. Sci-fi movies often show large plants devouring animals and humans alike. But if you see a pitcher plant in person you will realize this is far from the truth.
A typical pitcher plant is half a foot long. The pitcher is only a few inches in diameter, too small for large animals but just the right size for insects. Well fed pitcher plants will grow faster, usually up to 35 inches. Obviously that is too small to harm a cat or dog, let alone humans.
Once you understand how pitcher plants catch and eat insects, any worries about human safety should disappear.
Pitcher plants produce nectar to entice insects and other bugs. The pitcher is coated with nectar to draw the attention of prey.
When an inset falls into the leaves, the slippery walls make it difficult to crawl back up. Even a fly will find it hard to escape because the liquid covers their body. If you have seen an insect get trapped by a drosera, this is similar.
This also shows you that the pitcher plant traps evolved specifically to capture insects. In fact, touching the slippery surface might harm the plant. It will not hurt you, but the plant needs that to trap prey. If the sticky stuff ends up your fingers, the pitcher will be too dry to hold the prey in.
Tips For Growing and Caring of Pitcher Plants
There are several things you can do to care for pitcher plants. The good thing is they are relatively low maintenance.
- Do not be afraid. These plants cannot harm you. You can feed them without fear of being bitten.
- Provide light. Pitcher plants need light, but some species need it more than others. Sarracenia require more light than lowland nepenthes for instance. Learn as much as you can about the plant before buying.
- Water to keep the soil moist. The tray method is not advisable for most nepenthes, so water from the top. Do not overwater the plant but do not let the soil dry out.
- Pitcher plants prefer sunny, humid environments.
- Sarracenia pitcher plants go dormant but nepenthes does not. Keep this in mind so you can make the proper preparations.
Now some simple guidelines about feeding:
- Most pitcher plants are fed one insect a week. That is sufficient to satisfy their nutritional needs.
- Dead or live insects are both fine. You are not limited to crawling and flying bugs as mealworms and bloodworm are also prey for pitcher plants.
- Outdoor pitcher plants do not require feeding. Insects are drawn to its nectar so if you look in one, you should see a dead bug or two there.
- Do not feed hamburger to pitcher plants. Foods for human consumption are not meant for carnivorous plants.
If you have a pet, keep the plant in a safe location. Cats in particular seem attracted to carnivorous plants, and might eat it. Eating pitcher plants might give your cat indigestion but nothing too serious. Just make sure the pot is somewhere your pet cannot reach it.
Lastly, do not play with your plant. Do not poke the pitcher to see what will happen. Doing so will disrupt its natural rhythm and waste resources. Let the plant use its pitcher and liquid to catch food.
In spite of their fearsome reputation, pitcher plants are harmless to humans and pets. If the animal is too large for the pitcher trap then it is safe. As any nepenthes owner will tell you, these plants actually need protection from animals, not the other way around.
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.