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It is true that pitcher plants usually feed on insects, spiders and other small bugs that fall into their traps. But occasionally you might see a snail caught in one of its pitchers. Should you just leave the snail there or will it cause problems for the plant? While rare this can happen, so it pays to know what you should do.
Pitcher plants can eat small snails and absorb their nutrients. Once a snail falls into the trap, the viscous liquids suffocate the animal, dissolved and consumed.
Why Pitcher Plants Eat Snails
When we think of pitcher plant food, flies, crickets, ladybugs and freeze dried foods like Liwii Dried Mealworms come to mind. But both sarracenia and nepenthes plants eat animals like small frogs, slugs and others.
Pitcher plants eat snails to get nutrients that are not available in the soil. Nitrogen, calcium, potassium and other elements are present in insects and snails, which pitcher plants take advantage of.
Technically, pitcher plants might be able to survive without eating meat. Lots of sunlight, air circulation, low humidity and 65-85 F temperature will help their growth. But all plants benefit from additional elements and will thrive.
A non-carnivorous plant gets these nutrients from the soil. Pitcher plants only grow in swamps, bogs and other locations where the soil lacks these elements. These plants cannot live in fertilized soil so they improvise and extract the elements from creatures around them.
While pitcher plants do not need to eat snails to live, their nutrients provide a lot of benefits. They become even more important if the plant is in a less than ideal environment.
How Pitcher Plants Benefit From Snails
Snails are physically very different from bugs, but they still possess the nutrients these plants need. When a pitcher plant digests a snail, it is converted into nitrogen and the other nutrients. What is lacking in the soil these bugs, insects and snails supply.
Carnivorous plants use glucose and nutrients together. Glucose is like fuel, powering the plants so it can create traps, flowers, nectar, leaves etc. Nutrients from smails supplement glucose and provide pitcher plants with more energy. The additional resources allows plants to produce larger traps, extra leaves, more flowers and so on.
Snails are also pollinators. When they go near the plant, some of the pollen gets attached to the shell and gets distributed, helping the plant propagate. Carnivorous plants usually try to avoid eating pollinators but sometimes they end up eating pollinators like bees and snails.
Like other carnivorous plants, sarracenia and nepenthes have evolved to take full advantage of their environment. Insects are plentiful in bogs and swamps so pitcher plants prey on them, but if a snail gets caught in the trap, it will be eaten too.
How Many Snails Do Pitcher Plants Eat?
It depends on the size of the snail and how much the pitcher plant has already consumed. These plants only need a small amount of nutrients to meet their requirements.
Pitcher plants only eat what it can digest. Even so, you should never try to overfeed because it might have side effects. How many snails pitcher plants eat also depends on whether they are indoors or outside. Outdoors, the plant has access to all kinds of prey. You do not have to concern yourself with how many snails the plant is eating. All kinds of bugs proliferate in gardens so your plant will never go hungry.
Most small snails are 1-1.5 inches long, so a pitcher plant can eat 2-3 of these a month. The plant will eat less if it has already consumed other insects however. If your nepenthes is fed regularly it won’t need a lot of snails or bugs.
These plants can only eat small snails. Some of these snails can reach 12 inches and will have no problems getting out of the pitcher, if they can even fit.
Indoor pitcher plants have to be given nutrients. You can give them snails or small insects, live or dead. Frozen, freeze dried or live worms are also food options. Fish food like South Shore Tropical Fish Flakes is also good for pitcher plants.
If this is your first time to give it snails, start with just one. See how your pitcher plant reacts. Most of them will eat it, but other species might be more picky and refuse.
It might also take some time before the plant eats the snail so you have to be patient. If the plant consumes the snail, you can feed it regularly every month or every 2-3 weeks. Most nepenthes can eat an insect once a week, but with snails try every two weeks until it gets used to this diet.
How to Feed Snails to Pitcher Plants
If you want to treat your plant to some snails, it is very easy. Just drop a snail, dead or live, into the pitcher. You can also cut off the head if you are worried about it escaping.
Once the snail is in the pitcher, let the plant handle the rest. Check the pitcher after a few days and you will see nothing left, except maybe the shell. As you can see, feeding snails to pitcher plants is very easy. It is even simpler than worms, which require some preparation before being given to these plants.
If you want to keep feeding snails to your pitcher plants, here are a few tips:
- Do not overfeed the plant.
- Do not fill each pitcher with a bunch of snails.
- Start with just one and see how the plant responds.
- Do not give the plant any more snails if it refuses to eat.
- You can control the amount of food an indoor nepenthes consumes. If the plant is outdoors you have to let it get food on its own. With its nectar that will not be difficult.
- Sarracenia pitcher plants need natural light more than nepenthes so they are best grown outdoors. This also means you do not have to feed them.
- You can give different types of food to these plants, but not too much. You might give your nepenthes a snail this week, a few flies next week, some fish food the next and so on.
- Some countries cook and serve snails for human consumption. Do not give these to your plant.
How Pitcher Plants Catch Snails
As explained earlier, snails are pollinators so pitcher plants try to avoid eating them as much as possible. But if the animal falls into the trap, it will be consumed.
Snails prefer yeast-type smells, but the scent of nectar also lures them. If a snail slips into the pitcher, it will have a hard time getting out due to the liquids at the bottom. Once the prey is trapped, the plant produces additional digestive liquids to eat it.
Depending on the snail size, its shell may or may not be eaten. A large pitcher with plenty of liquids can eat a snail with ease, as it would other small insects. This will only be possible if the pitcher contains liquids. An empty pitcher plant will not be able to eat any prey.
Pitcher plants produce nectar to moisten their pitchers and lure potential prey. A snail that detects this scent will look for it and end up going to the plant. If the snail goes up to the pitcher, there is a strong possibility it will fall into the cavity.
When a snail falls into the pitcher it will be digested. While carnivorous plants try not to eat their pollinators, this can happen to snails as well as bees. Once the snail is eaten, the nutrients go into various parts of the plant.
Pitcher plants use these same methods to catch and eat other prey. However it only works on those small enough to fit in their trap. Large animals can easily get out of the liquids and climb or fly out of the trap.
Pitcher plants are versatile and capable of eating a wide range of prey. Snails are not a staple of their diet, but it will not cause harm and provide nutrients similar to insects and bugs if consumed. So do not worry about them.
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.