10 Mad Facts About the Praying Mantis

Praying mantises are incredible creatures. In this account, we learn about these insects
on steroids that make an Alien versus Predator movie look tame. Discover what the master hunters can do and
be prepared to be inspired by the greatness of an invertebrate. Whether pretending to be a flower, eating
birds, or going on fishing trips, mantises are astounding. 10. They Eat Birds Praying mantises are voracious hunters. In fact, they can capture and subdue some
unlikely and substantial prey types that are simply incredible for an insect — even a
large one. The strength and speed of a praying mantis
allows it to make disproportionately challenging kills that would be far beyond the reach of
many hunting species. Did you know that these mere insects have
killed and consumed birds, bats, mice and frogs? Praying mantises eat birds, and this is not
a freak occurrence but one that is literally widespread. Praying mantises have been recorded in acts
of insect on bird predation on all of the Earth’s continents, save for Antarctica. National Geographic describes documentation
by the Wilson Journal of Ornithology of 147 cases of mantises eating birds in 13 different
countries. The gruesome attacks involved 12 mantis species
and 24 bird species. Hummingbirds were popular targets despite
their speed, being ambushed most successfully because they are so small. Disturbing is the way a mantis feeds, often
starting with the head. In hummingbirds, heads were pierced and brains
gorged upon by hungry mantises. The Wilson Journal of Ornithology concludes
that the popular practice of purchasing and freeing mantises for pest control should be
approached with great caution, especially for large species, given the threat to birds. 9. Some Look Like Flowers Praying mantises are supposed to be green
in popular imagination, but their means of camouflage prove that evolution is truly remarkable. For example, some of the most formidable and
ferocious mantis species look for all the world like a flower in full bloom. The Orchid Mantis Hymenopus coronatus must
be seen to be believed. It might be the most shocking case of aggressive
mimicry on the planet. Orchid Mantises are not camouflaged to blend
in with flowers. The truth is much more sinister. Rather, they appear to be a flower, albeit
an especially appealing one, and are visited by prey more often than real flowers, and
can make more kills. Native to Southeast Asian forests, Orchid
Mantises are uncommonly found, but have been discovered and misunderstood far back in the
history of exploration. During an 1879 visit to West Java, James Hingston,
a traveling writer, thought he had found a carnivorous plant, describing the mantis as
follows (none the wiser about the deadly “flower” being a ferocious insect): “I am taken by
my kind host around his garden, and shown, among other things, a flower, a red orchid,
that catches and feeds upon live flies. It seized upon a butterfly while I was present,
and enclosed it in its pretty but deadly leaves, as a spider would have enveloped it in network.” 8. Mate Eating Yes, the love life of praying mantis isn’t
really about happy ever after. Often, it’s more like, “I loved you, I
mated with you, then I ate you.” At least often enough to make natural history
headlines with regularity. Mate eating by praying mantises is more common
in laboratory settings than in the wild, but nevertheless biological rationale for the
behavior exists. Eating a male allows nutritional value to
be gained that assists in egg case production, meaning that even if eaten, the male may “enjoy”
increased reproductive success in passing on his genes by making a nutritional donation
of his body. Females may benefit significantly. Research published by Proceedings of the Royal
Society B indicates that mate-eating females laid 51 more eggs than those who treated their
mates a little more kindly. The 51 more eggs represent an increase of
25 percent over a regular egg clutch. Furthermore, the male’s characteristics
were more strongly represented in the young of mate eaters. Why? Because being eaten by a female means that
17.7 percent more of the male’s amino acids and related biological matter ends up in her
ovaries and eggs, in a way making him “live on” more strongly represented in the next
generation. 7. Death by Dead Leaf A dead leaf could be a deadly mantis. No, really. The dead leaves on the forest floor in a Southeast
Asian rainforest may contain among their ranks a dead leaf that is actually Deroplatys lobate,
the logically named Dead Leaf Mantis. This species of mantis is equipped with all
of the awesome hunting and dispatch armament of a typical mantis, but it has flattened
body parts that make it look like an old leaf. Even the tears and rumples of a dead leaf
are copied. The thorax is flatter than usual, while the
wings are flat and expansive. The mottling that a leaf should have are present. Then there are spots and speckles that resemble
the mould and mildew on a decaying leaf. Finally, the veins of the leaf that are part
of the typical harmless leaf look adorn the wings, further deceiving potential prey, ensuring
they never see anything more than leaves until it is far, far too late. Below all the deception are sharp barbs on
the forelegs, perfect for taking down prey with lightning speed. The mantis is hard to breed in captivity,
and unlike many of the more frequently kept species, is extremely delicate in its requirements,
particularly around humidity and temperature. 6. They Grow to Insane Sizes Mantises, especially the stick mantis species,
can reach enormous weights or lengths. Some mantises are remarkable for their mass,
and overall huge size, but are not the longest. Other mantises are skinnier, but hold records
for sheer length. The giant shield mantises of the genus Rhombodera
may approach nearly 5 inches in length, giving them a good size advantage in hunting. But these are short compared to stick mantises. Stick mantises are less massive but make up
for it by reaching an incredible length of just under 8 inches, possibly more. The members of the genus Toxodera are gigantic,
crane-like mantises that patrol Asian habitats. In Africa, giant stick mantises of the genus
Heterochaeta may exceed six inches in length. These are some seriously big “bugs.” 5. Their Vision is Unique & Superb Mantises have exceptional vision that is not
only remarkable in the insect world, but unique in the animal kingdom. Research published in the journal Current
Biology explains that praying mantises enjoy a great advantage in hunting, which requires
exceptional depth perception to strike accurately at varying distances. Praying mantis vision involves a distinct
type of 3D perception of surroundings, especially potential food, thanks to their huge eyes
that have become the focus of much research. A statistical minority of animal species have
stereoscopic vision, including most mammals (humans among them) and the bird order that
comprises owls, but mantises are striking for two reasons. First off, an insect having such advanced
vision is exceptional. Second, the type of stereoscopic vision in
mantises is different. Humans will perceive two still images with
minor differences as a single, three dimensional image thanks to stereoscopic vision, but mantises
have movement dependant stereoscopic vision. Moving object image information is turned
into a three dimensional image, while non-moving objects are passed over. Research into how mantises see has involved
placing tiny 3D glasses over their eyes, allowing scientists to calculate their perceptual abilities
with “movies” featuring prey species. 4. They are Related to Termites and Cockroaches Praying Mantises seem to be in a class of
their own. But they are related to, gasp, cockroaches,
and termites. Mantises belong to the order Mantodea, and
cockroaches and termites are order Blattodea. Both are placed within the superorder Dictyoptera,
which translates to “net wings” in English terminology. The creatures might be on opposite ends of
the human respect spectrum, but the physiological relations are certainly their, thanks to the
distinctive “net wing” anatomy of the different but strongly related groups. 3. They Go Fishing Yes, it happens. Revenge of the insects for all that fly fishing? The author, who has a history of caring for
both praying mantises and guppies, was surprised to discover that praying mantises can eat
fish, namely guppies. The Journal of Orthoptera Research published
accounts of a praying mantis collecting guppies, speared fisherman-style from a small water
body, before somewhat grotesquely devouring them. Lead study author Roberto Battiston, an Italian
entomologist noted the fishing mantis story when study co-author Nivek Manjunath sent
photos depicting a giant Asian Mantis male eating fish, images taken originally by conservationist
Rajesh Puttaswamaiah, who had come across the incidents of insect on fish predation
in a pond that was part of his Karnataka, India rooftop garden. The study co-authors monitored the pond for
further predation attempts, discovering that multiple hunts were taking place with successful
results for the hungry mantis. The fishing trips served as evidence for the
ability of mantises to learn and innovate as they find food. 2. They Inspired Kung-Fu Some of the most interesting Chinese Kung-Fu
moves from Shandong Province in Northern China and a different form of Kung-Fu from the Hakka
people of Southern China draw directly from the Praying Mantis species commonly found
in China, the graceful but ferocious Chinese Mantis. The origin of Seven Star Praying Mantis Kung-Fu
is with Shaolin Kung-Fu student Wong Long from the 17th century. He had been in serious competition with his
elder, monk Feng, who always out-sparred him in practice sessions. Wanting to improve his Kung-Fu skills, he
gained valuable insights from the insect world that would add greatly to the Kung-Fu repertoire. Feng had gone traveling around China over
a period of three years, during which time Wong witnessed a successful attack on a cicada
insect by a mantis, which used its agility and fierce strikes to take it down. Wong didn’t just watch, he then did battle
with the mantis itself with a stick, and was impressed with the counterstrikes. The mantis’s behavior was observed, and
then translated into closely matched human fighting moves by the attentive Wong. Wong then categorized the required arm movements
into 12 character principles. Combining footwork inspired by monkeys, Wong
easily beat Feng upon his return. 1. They are Named after Prophets What does the generally used name “Praying
Mantis” mean, anyway? Well, the common descriptive name praying
mantis used to refer to the more than 2,500 species of these insects has a two-part religious
meaning. Praying refers to the folded forearms of a
mantis lying in wait for prey, which resembles a person in an act of prayer. The aggressive nature of the insects often
results in the name being misconstrued as “Preying Mantis,” but that is most incorrect. The terms Mantid and Mantis originates from
Greek. Mantikos is the Greek word for a prophet or
soothsayer. The Greek root name was selected by German-Argentine
Zoologist Karl Hermann Konrad Burmeister in 1838. The insects have been assigned special powers
in a number of traditional societies, enjoying a level of respect seldom conferred by humans
onto an insect. The Latin name of the European Mantis, Mantis
religiosa, is a further testament to the spiritual perception of these special creatures.

Jerry Heath

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