Information, Even If You Don’t Want It

Without fail, whenever I volunteer that I raise carnivorous plants, I get one of two responses, usually one right after the other. The first is, always, “Oh, so have you seen Little Shop of Horrors?”, and I weep that nobody even reads John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids any more. The second, without fail, when I mention that you generally don’t have to feed carnivores if kept correctly, is “Wow! I need one of those! They’ll be great for dealing with the bugs in my house!” And that’s when I killed them, Your Honor.

The reality of keeping carnivorous plants is that they’re not hardened killers of arthropod prey, waiting hungrily for their next victim. Well, they do, but they don’t have the energy to do so more than passively. While they subsist on captured flies, fungus gnats, and anything else they can subdue, carnivorous plants will no more wipe out the wasps attracted to your spilled rum and Coke or the roaches in your sink than they will the relatives who swore they’d call before they came to visit. If they did, then they’d be a lot more popular. Carnivores use all sorts of tricks and lures to attract prey, but they still won’t compensate for your filthy living habits.

That said, I’m still nagged and nuhdzed by cohorts and acquaintances about using carnivores for pest control, and I realized that I do have one surefire way to use carnivores to process at least one household pest. Most summers, the Dallas area is overrun with representatives of the American cockroach, Periplaneta americana. Contrary to popular presentations of their being fond of linedancing while lassoing runaway cats, the American cockroach, or “palmetto bug” as they’re referred to in these parts, is a critter with precious little to recommend them to anyone but entomologists. The good news about a beast large enough to bear hood ornaments and TireFlys is that they only stay indoors if the conditions are suitably foul for human habitation: in most houses, such as ours, they sneak indoors along pipes and vents, look around for a while in vain for food, and promptly keel over due to dehydration from the indoor air conditioning. They may keel over, but they aren’t necessarily dead: try to pick up one that looks dead, and it’ll usually decide then to crawl up your arm in an effort to convince you that you need to be in the next time zone. That tactic works remarkably well.

Anyway, the Czarina understandably loathes P. americana from her experiences from living next to a Thai restaurant during her first marriage. This means that while she normally has no fear of man, beast, or god, I’m the one she wakes up in the middle of the night to take care of the monster bug. Personally, I can’t blame her, and I’m glad she settles for waking me instead of taking off and nuking the entire site from orbit. These days, her understandable hate any my hobby combine, and it works out well for everyone but the roaches.

Now, to imitate my results, you’ll need a few things. The first is a carnivorous plant big enough to deal with our icky bugs. This is an Asian pitcher plant, species Nepenthes alata, native to the Phillipines. Let’s call him “Bub”.

Nepenthes alata

Being a very fast-growing Nepenthes, “Bub” has a good half-dozen pitchers already established, with more on the way. Nepenthes plants produce two types of traps: lower traps that remain along the ground, and upper traps for when the plant starts to vine and twine up trees and other obstacles, and many species have upper traps so different from lower traps that they’d be mistaken for separate species were they discovered separately. Below is a pristine freshly opened lower trap, noting the distinctive color that marks N. alata as one of my favorites.

New Nepenthes alata trap

Now, we need a bug, and nature always provides. Let’s call him “archy“.

archy the cockroach

Since we don’t want to be overly cruel, and since you don’t want the little darling scuttling up your arm, dispatch “archy” with whatever non-chemical means are at your disposal.

Smith & Wesson beats four aces

“Anyone else have any questions about the way things are going to run around here from now on?”

Now that you’ve subdued “archy”, it’s now a matter of getting “archy” to “Bub”. Oh, you can use your fingers, but considering the various diseases and parasites carried by cockroaches, don’t you want to use tools?


And there he goes…

And in he goes...

If in case “archy” is a bit too large, don’t be afraid to use appropriate tools for the job. “Power tools…to make life easy…”

Power tools

Chainsaws are for wimps.

Bow saw versus roach, roach loses

Be warned that it’s very easy to overfeed carnivorous plants, especially when dealing with ones with Klendathu passports. This trap demonstrates a perfect case of Nepenthes indigestion, seeing as how “archy” was joined by his buddies “N’Grath” and “Truzenzuzex”.

This plant needs Alka-Seltzer

If you get more bugs than your pitcher plant can handle, don’t be afraid to use modern food storage techniques to save a meal for later. Here’s “Samsa” being prepped for next week’s dinner event.

Storing for the winter

Alternately, if you’re feeling particularly daring, feel free to keep your prey animals free-range. Just make sure to use appropriate methods to warn friends and family members as to your intent.

Needing much more cowbell

And see the benefits of your regular feeding? Not only is “Bub” responding so well that he’s producing new traps, but he’s even producing new sprouts from his roots, complete with brand new mosquito-sized traps.

New trap, ready for capture

Finally, remember that the secret of effective use of carnivorous plants for pest control lies with the pest, not the plant. With the right tools, any pest may become plant food. For instance, this pest also woke me up at three in the morning, intent upon nothing but eating, defecating, and shedding all over the place. Let’s call it “Mehitabel”.

Leiber, the famed "Freakbeast"

Hmmmm. I think I’m going to need more freezer bags.

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