Venus flytrap FAIL = spider WIN?

By Ed Yong | April 22, 2009 8:36 am

We take a break from our regularly scheduled write-ups of peer-reviewed science to bring you this amusing image from FAILblog.

Now, it’s understandable that the Venus Flytrap – a carnivorous plant that catches insects – isn’t doing that well out of this situation, but I submit to you that it’s a win for the spider. The flytrap attracts insects to its hinged leaves by baiting them with a sweet nectar, and what better place for a spider to spin its web than a ready-made insect lure?

There are certainly other cases of spiders exploiting carnivorous plants. Several species of crab spiders make a living by exploiting the insect-catching traps of pitcher plants, waiting at the rim to grab passing insects. Some species even dive into the pool of fluid at the bottom of the pitcher to feed on the bodies at the bottom, using a bubble of air as a scuba tank. It wouldn’t surprise me to see further examples of spiders adapting to exploit carnivorous plants.

(I think it’s reasonable to assume that the spider whose web features in the photo wasn’t itself eaten; the trap would have had to close, which would have collapsed the web).


Comments (8)

  1. Yeah, I saw that this morning too, and it gave me a laugh.
    I wonder, given the small size of the flytrap, if the web isn’t built by spider mites instead of spiders.

  2. llewelly

    Alex, do you know of any spider mites that use their webs for catching prey? I ask because to me this doesn’t look like a protective web at all.
    Separately, there are some extremely tiny spiders which build webs to catch prey.

  3. MattK

    Definite spider win. I think that potential prey of the venus fly trap has to touch the “trigger hairs”. In fact I think that it has to touch more than one at the same time. I tried it once and it seemed to work although there was no replication (I felt bad about screwing up the traps).

  4. Ed Yong

    My local DIY store had some Venus flytraps on display in the pot plant section. I can confirm that (a) it takes at least two touches to the trigger hairs to close the trap, (b) they don’t need to be simultaneous and (c) it’s incredibly addictive and I am a worse person than you are Matt.

  5. Rhea

    Carnivorous plants are compensating for lousy soils, so if you feel guilty you can just give them some appropriate fertilizer to eat instead.

  6. I recently read in the definitive book on carnivorous plants, “Savage Garden” that up to 30% of Nepenthes are populated with spiders in the wild.
    I have one in my windowsill, and they are equal parts lewd-looking and fascinating.

  7. Sili

    I never even stopped to consider that the fail might have been directed at the spider when I saw the image.

  8. sadrice

    @5 That will kill the plant. They are adapted to low nutrient soils and require them to survive. That’s a large part of why they have a reputation for being hard to keep alive (that and they need to be wet, but not too wet).


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