As an Amazon Associate, this site earns commissions from qualifying purchases. For more details, click here.
Sundews are carnivorous plants that feed mostly on flies. But what if you see an ant caught in one of its leaves? Do you just let the plant consume the bug or try to remove it? You are in the right place as this article will explain what you need to know about ants and sundews.
Sundews eat ants, flies and other small insects. You can feed the plant once a week and it will eat living and dead ants alike. You can also let sundews catch bugs on its own by placing the plant somewhere insects can get to it.
How to Feed Ants to Sundews
Feeding sundews is easy, and in many cases you do not have to as the plant can fend for itself. If your sundew is outside it probably does not need help feeding as there are insects the plant catches on its own. Only healthy sundews can eat bugs, so make sure to buy healthy seeds or plants.
If your sundew is indoors, just place it on a window sill where it can catch sunlight and bugs. If the plant is in a Waytoeast Terrarium or there are few insects in its location, you have to feed it by hand. While this article is about ants, you can use this method for any type of drosera food.
Here are the steps:
- Only feed your sundew if there is mucilage (the sticky dew) on its tips. Do not feed sundews if they do not have mucilage. This substance is required for the digestive process. If there is no dew, this guide can help you figure out why.
- Grab the ant with a pair of tweezers. Sundews prefer live prey but dead bugs will do fine.
- Place the ant on one of its leaves. When the sundew detects the presence of prey, its leaf will curl and eat the ant.
You can use the same steps to feed it flies, mosquitoes, gnats and other bugs. You can also use these steps to give sundews freeze dried mealworms or bloodworms.
Do not feed large food bits to sundews. Cockroaches, adult moths and other insects can chew the leaves and could severely damage or kill the tentacle. You can feed large dead bugs to sundews, but they have to be sliced into tiny bits so the plant can eat it.
The leaf will remain curled until it has completely digested its prey, then it unrolls and is ready for more. There are different types of sundews so the digesting time varies. Most will take a week or so to finish though.
How Many Ants Can Sundews Consume?
Sundews usually eat 3 to 4 times a month or once a week feeding. Do not overfeed sundews as it can cause serious damage to the plant.
Watching sundews trap and eat bugs is fascinating, so the urge to feed them continuously is understandable. But trapping and digesting insects requires a lot of energy. Even healthy sundews should only eat 3 to 4 bugs a month.
Signs of overfed sundews:
- Lethargy. The sundews will make no attempt to digest prey even when it falls in their trap. Its tentacle will wrap itself over the ant but will not digest it.
- After a few days the tentacle will weaken and die. The leaf will turn black too.
- The ant will remain in its grip. This is risky because the ant will start to rot. You need to remove the insect immediately before rot spreads to the rest of your sundews.
If the rotting has spread, remove the infected parts along with the ant. Repot the rot free sundews and give it plenty of natural light and water. Use purified water or better yet LIFEWTR Premium Water to ensure its cleanliness.
A healthy drosera is more resistant to infection and will eat ants without any issues. Signs of healthy sundews are the following.
- Sticky dew or mucilage. Whether you call them dew, mucilage or gel, the point remains the same. Sundews cannot eat without this sticky goo. Lots of mucilage on sundews is a good sign.
- Colorful leaves. Sundews have rich colors and just look more vibrant. This is true not just for sundews but all plants in general.
- Responsive to prey. If your sundews are in the pink of health, it will trap and eat ants and other insects that get caught in its trap.
Why Do Sundews Eat Ants?
While sundews “eat” ants and other insects, they cannot really be considered food for two reasons. Plants do not have digestive systems like animals , and two, insects are not food for sundews. They are nutrients.
Sundews create their own food called glucose through photosynthesis. This requires sunlight, water, nitrogen, carbon dioxide and other elements. Glucose is the fuel that powers these plants, and it is the closest thing to food sundews consume. Without glucose, the plant will die.
Sundews eat ants, flies and other insects to meet their nutritional needs. Plants need nitrogen, potassium and other elements to stimulate growth and fight infection.
The best way to think of glucose and insects is to compare them with food and supplements. We eat food to survive and take supplements to boost our strength. Glucose and insect nutrients have the same role, they complement each other.
Can sundews survive without bugs? Scientists know that Venus flytraps can and it is very possible that sundews can as well. But the lack of nutrients will weaken their immune system and make them vulnerable to diseases.
Regular plants obtain these nutrients from the soil. Sundews only grow in poor soil so they have no way to obtain these. This is why they developed traps to capture insects and extract their nutrients.
Ants are rich in nutrients, so it is important that they have access to them. Even if these are not essential to their survival, these nutrients make the plants stronger.
Ants are an important part of the drosera diet. But you should not limit your sundew to these, as other insects provide nutrition as well. When sundews eat bugs, they supply the plant with the elements thy need to produce more dew.
How Do Sundews Catch and Eat Insects?
There are three stages here: luring the insects, trapping them and digestion. The process is the same for all bugs that fall into its trap.
Sundews produce mucilage, a dew-like substance (hence the name) which insects are drawn to. Each leaf has hairs or tentacles, and their tips have this sticky gland.
An ant is drawn to the scent and lands on the tip of the tentacle. Soon the insect realizes it is stuck, similar to how a flypaper works.
Once a drosera senses its prey, the leaf rolls up and around the ant. The ant will die from suffocation or exhaustion as it tries to escape the leaf.
When the plant has secured its prey, it will release digestive enzymes. These enzymes will dissolve the ant’s tissues so the plant can eat it.
Some sundews can dissolve ants in 15 minutes, but the digestion can take up to a week. This is why feeding the plant 3 to 4 times a month is ideal so it has enough time to process each prey.
Some sundews like the D. glanduligera, have two types of tentacles. Aside from the regular ones that have sticky substances, D glanduligera also has longer tentacles that catch and throw insects into its trap.
In general though, the process for capturing and digesting insects is the same for sundews. Because they only need to eat a few bugs a month, it is not necessary to feed them constantly. If there are a lot of ants in your area, you can buy several sundews and get rid of pests.
Sundews are generally easy to take care of. The idea of feeding them seems daunting if you have never done it before. But as shown in this guide, it is easy and they can even get ants themselves if placed in the right location.