Can You Make a Venus Flytrap Go Vegan?
I recently became a vegetarian. While I was at Whole Foods buying my protein powder, I found the perfect apartment companion: a Venus flytrap. My question is, assuming I do not have enough bugs in my apartment to feed this carnivorous plant, can I keep my new-found pet alive on a vegetarian diet? Can I feed it tofu and rice? Thank you for your help,
Vegetarian Venus Lover
Science has been vegetarian, well mostly vegetarian, since age 2. So, congratulations for the switch; the environment thanks you for your much lower carbon impact. As omnivores, we can get away with a vegan diet so long as we include enough balanced protein sources—like the combination of tofu and rice—to keep our eyes bright, our coats shiny, and our tails bushy.
Your carnivorous plant isn't so lucky. Here's why: Most plants need nitrogen and mineral-packed soil to grow, goodies that generally come from decaying plants and animals. The problem is, in places with an abundance of everything plants need—air, sun, water, nitrogen, and minerals—vicious competition ensues. Carnivorous plants get away from the crowd by growing in soil too crappy for other plants and instead grab the iron, calcium, phosphates, and nitrogen they need from living insects. In places where water and sun are abundant, but the soil nitrogen and nutrient poor—like the Carolina coast—carnivorous plants have a huge advantage. Yet another reason to avoid South Carolina.
The specialized skill of capturing insects makes most carnivorous plants fussy, so keeping a Venus flytrap alive is a tricky business. You'll need copious amounts of acidified water, a terrarium to keep things humid, plenty of sunlight, and some nutrient-poor soil. Dump in a bunch of fertilizer and the plant will promptly die; in the acidic water, the fixed nitrogen in the fertilizer becomes toxic ammonium. That'll kill your plant. Your flytrap wants what it evolved to consume: insects. Your new studio must have some pests you don't like. Cockroaches? Check under the fridge. If not, buy some crickets or mealworms from the pet store. Just think of it this way: You're outsourcing the meat eating in your apartment.
As for tofu—well, tofu is not made from insect viscera, despite appearances. So, no tofu and rice. Put the wrong foods in the flytrap and they'll rot, and your poor plant will kick it. It would be like feeding spinach to a cat; no good can come of it. Even bits of hamburger aren't right. If feeding prey to your carnivorous plant is too abhorrent for you, don't feed it anything. It has a better chance of living with just sunlight and water.
Even for an omnivore, becoming vegetarian is tricky. Your carnivorous flytrap is even fussier than you are. Good luck with your Venus flytrap, and with your vegetarianism. Do you know about the Society for DNA Free Food?
Send your scientific questions to email@example.com.