Eat Pray Love: What He Doesn’t Know Might Eat Him

Last week there was a praying mantis in the garden. The gardener thought, “well, this could be good or bad, depending on what she eats.” The praying mantis will eat the bad bugs but might eat the good bugs, too. Some species of praying mantids are at home in gardens, but others are found in forested wetlands, meadows, fields and vegetated areas that have mild winters.

Out of thousands of species of praying mantids, only some are the famous praying mantis(Carolina mantid) found all over the world. The praying mantis eats nesting birds, insects, soft-shelled turtles, frogs, snakes, mice. A praying mantis is extremely well-camouflaged to look like leaves, rocks, twigs or whatever environment it inhabits. Its hunting tactic of blending in is only the beginning. A head that rotates 180°, compound eyes, spiked legs, daggers for hooves and lightning-fast reflexes make the praying mantis a perfect predator. She jumps. She flies. She pounces like a cat on unsuspecting prey, piercing and pinning her victim, then devouring the creature even while it’s still alive, and sometimes, during copulation with her mate.

There is a common misconception that a female praying mantis (Carolina mantid) will always eat the head of her mate during or shortly after mating. This really only happens if she is ravenous and there is no other nearby food source, such as, another insect, a mouse, a humming bird. It is especially common when the mating mantids are observed in captivity but less common in the wild.  Maybe it was a female praying mantis who started the post-copulation decapitation rumor, or simply a misunderstanding. The phenomenon is widely referenced in pop culture; there’s even a British heavy metal band called, Praying Mantis. http://www.praying-mantis.com/

Beware:  the videos linked below are graphic.

Nature’s Perfect Predators: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6hGuallLPcM
Attacking a hummingbird: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ep6vmpcUQR8
Mating in the wild, eating male’s head:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KYp_Xi4AtAQ
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W1iF3H9xJ-k
Devouring a mouse: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pNcIUIULafw

Because they are such good predators, praying mantis are often used to control unwanted pests in gardens http://organic-vegetable-gardens.suite101.com/article.cfm/working-with-natures-pest-control and http://www.missmalaprop.com/2010/04/natural-methods-of-garden-pest-control/ Conservation commissions and other groups also mention the use of the praying mantis for the same purpose.

It is also not to be confused with the marine crustacean, the peacock mantis shrimp, aka the “thumb-splitter” or “prawn killer,” which is neither peacocok nor praying mantis nor shrimp but gets its name because it resembles all three:http://news.discovery.com/videos/earth-peacock-mantis-shrimp.html

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