The Praying Mantis Is Merciless in the Hunt, Sex, and Death

mantis

The praying mantis is a ruthless and merciless killer. Whether it be during the hunt, reproduction, and even in death, these insects are the very definition of METAL.


Despite their name, which comes from the prayer-like gesture they make with their front legs, these bugs are actually some of the most unholy hell-raisers in the insect kingdom. Here’s why.

A Chinese mantis (Tenodera sinensis) devouring a cricket. Image: Luc Viatour

Let’s start with their weaponry of choice. Perhaps their most distinctive feature is the prominent pair of powerful raptorial legs, which they use like a razor-lined vise to hold their prey firmly in place. Then, using powerful mandibles, they slowly devour their squirming victims alive. Their reflexes are lightning fast, too— they can snatch unsuspecting prey and pull off leaps faster than the blink of an eye.

Watch this praying mantis use martial-arts-style skills to catch not just one bee, but a second one mid-chew:

So what do they eat? Just about anything, apparently. They typically feed on small insects, but several years ago, researchers revealed that praying mantises hunt birds and eat their brains with surprising frequency. Lizards, frogs, fish and even mice are fair game, too.

But it’s not just prey who face their wrath. Like the notorious black widow spider, mantises occasionally engage in what’s known as sexual cannibalism, as well. During copulation, the female sometimes eats the male’s head, which, incredibly doesn’t deter him from continuing to mate! He keeps thrusting well after his entire head has been devoured by his lover.

Watch this:

As merciless as this appears, there may be a benefit to this behavior. According to research published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, females who ate their lover’s heads after sex produced up to 25 percent more eggs than those who didn’t, suggesting that the practice “increases male material investment in offspring.”

Even in death, the praying mantis can be totally bizarre. How? Mantises have quite a few predators, including frogs, lizards, birds, wasps, ants – but the strangest threat to these stick-like insects comes in the form of parasites.

In the most nightmarish scenario, a horrific creature known as a horsehair worm takes over the mantis’s body and uses it as a vehicle to complete its development from larva to adult. The parasite, which grows up to several inches long while inside the host’s body, eventually drives the insect to drown itself so that it can emerge and live freely in water.

This video provides a pretty good picture of what happens:

To say nothing of their heads which can rotate 180 degrees and their bulging alien-like eyes that give them a rare ability to see in 3-D, praying mantises are one of the most peculiar insects we’ve ever seen.