Superhero insect that prays on the mind
Published: 31st Jul 2017The praying mantis is an extraordinary creature. The triangular head, bulging eyes and enlarged forelegs give it an alien aspect. It combines this look with some impressive superpowers: the ability to camouflage itself as a leaf or flower, and the power to strike its prey with lightning speed.
The praying mantis is an extraordinary creature. The triangular head, bulging eyes and enlarged forelegs give it an alien aspect. It combines this look with some impressive superpowers: the ability to camouflage itself as a leaf or flower, and the power to strike its prey with lightning speed.
Newquay Zoo is home to 70 praying mantis, which can be seen in 3 display tanks in the Tropical House. They are Senior Keeper Gareth O’Dare’s pride and joy: “The praying mantis has developed so well in its environment, over time it has evolved an array of skills, from camouflage to incredible speed. It’s awesome!”
This insect essentially has the superpower of confusion. The camouflaged body and motionless posture mimic the surrounding environment, luring prey to their deaths. The disguise is so effective that flying insects can be more attracted to the mantis that the environment that it imitates. The camouflage in turn protects them from predators.
Their upright posture, and the way they hold their forearms, has led to the common name praying mantis. Gareth: “I never get tired of watching the praying mantis - it’s like something out of a Marvel superhero movie!”
There are over 2,400 species distributed worldwide in temperate and tropical zones. They are related to termites and cockroaches and sometimes confused with stick insects and grasshoppers.
Largely ambush predators, adults will eat anything they can catch, including small lizards, bees without stingers, flies, butterflies, moths and other non-venomous flying insects. Their front legs move so quickly it’s difficult to see with the naked eye. As if that wasn’t bad enough, their legs have spikes for snaring prey and pinning it in place.
To add the final garnish of hideous delight, females sometimes practice sexual cannibalism, eating their mates after copulation. It’s no wonder that mantises were considered to have supernatural powers by the ancient Greeks and Egyptians.