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The beauty of the praying mantis

ByEve Miller

Sep 28, 2018

Give a mantis a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a mantis to fish, and you’ll realise this clever hunter has already figured it out.

A video from India released this week shows a wild mantis fishing for guppies in a manmade pond. The researchers observed the mantis over a few evenings as it sat on a lily-pad waiting for its prey to approach. Once caught, the mantis ate the fish alive, returning swiftly to its predatory stance. Despite not eating fish or hunting nocturnally in the wild, the mantis proved itself to be an excellent learner.

One of the many problems a mantis must overcome when learning to fish is how to properly locate an animal underwater. Objects underwater appear bigger and closer due to the refraction of light, making it harder to catch them. Within just a couple of days, the mantis figured this out and was fishing as easily as if he’d been doing it his whole life.

The praying mantis has always had a bit of a bad reputation. For some reason, the fact that females bite the heads off of their partners has made people think they’re vicious. In fact, they’re incredibly vicious. But moving past strange mating behaviour, their hunting habits is what makes them stand out as a truly magnificent creature.

The praying mantis is built to be a hunter. Five (two compound and three simple) eyes are located on the front of their triangular heads, which can turn up to 180 degrees, scanning its surroundings. Their devout, folded legs, which give them their name, are what allow them to attack so effectively. They shoot out incredibly quickly, barely visible to the naked eye, covered in spikes to further incapacitate their prey. Mantes hunt completely silently and are perfectly camouflaged among the foliage in their natural habitat.

A quick YouTube search for “praying mantis eats” will show their diet ranging from flies to lizards and even rats. The recent fishing observations suggest that although in their natural habitat they primarily eat small insects, the clever hunters can quickly adapt.

Another unlikely victim of the praying mantis is the hummingbird. Mantes will wait on hummingbird feeders for an unlucky bird to fly in. After trapping them between their strong front legs the hummingbirds die of shock, allowing the mantes to feast.

Researchers looking at this behaviour have found that, on its first attempt, a mantis will try to eat the bird immediately. This causes the hummingbird to attack, damaging the mantis. However, after a few days, the mantis learns to stay completely still. This confuses the hummingbird and causes it to panic further, killing them quickly.

Despite these menacing traits, mantes are a very popular pet. They may be excellent hunters, but they’re not venomous or aggressive towards humans. Their holy statue is beautiful (when you ignore the evolutionary reason for it) resulting in a high demand for the insect.

In some countries, they are even used as pest control. Mantes eat aphids, caterpillars, crickets and a variety of other garden pests without damaging the plants growing there. As people are becoming increasingly concerned with the ecological dangers of artificial pesticides this is one natural solution

The praying mantis is beautiful, clever and can be extremely useful to humans. But if you’re smaller than your average hummingbird, it’s probably best to stay as far away as possible.


Image Credit: patrickkavanagh

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