By Richard Levine
An urban legend about female praying mantises always eating males during or after mating has circulated for a long time. However, reality is much more complicated.
Kyle Hurley, an entomology student from the University of Central Arkansas, spent two years observing praying mantises in the lab and made some startling observations. For example, in one out of 45 cases the male actually consumed the female. And in one out of 45 cases, the female removed the head of the male before mating (the males were still able to finish the job). He also observed that female mantises “were selectively cannibalizing smaller males,” which is exactly what happens in this video from the Smithsonian Institution:
Of course observations in the lab can differ greatly from what actually happens in nature. According to Marianne Shockley Robinette, an entomologist at the University of Georgia, “While it has been observed in artificial settings such as laboratories where they’re rearing praying mantises, it’s rarely been observed in a natural environment.”
But Kyle also reported seeing a headless male mating with a female in the field. In the video below, Kyle talks about his observations:
Richard Levine is Communications Program Manager at the Entomological Society of America and editor of the Entomology Today Blog.