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Do Female Praying Mantises Always Eat the Males?

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

Richard Levine is Communications Program Manager at the Entomological Society of America and editor of the Entomology Today Blog.


  1. Good to see research on mantids. One comment — observations of the cannibalism of the male in nature are not as rare as the text suggests. Observations have been reported for field populations in at least four different species (Iris oratoria, Mantis religiosa, Stagmomantis limbata, Tenodera aridifolia). Typically ~25% of intersexual encounters involve the cannibalism of the male (eg. Lawrence 1992 Anim Behav, Hurd et al. 1994 Oikos, Maxwell 1998 Anim Behav, Maxwell et al. 2010 Ecol Ent).

      • I followed a female mantis that took up eye-level residence on a pepper plant last summer near my door, and she eventually mated with at least four different males, and for several days had two on her back at the same time with more males standing around expectantly. The female nibbled an eyeball of each mates , then finished the other eyeball, then eventually ate the whole head. Each male stayed attached to her for several days, ending up as discarded wings on the surface of the flowerpot a foot below after a new male took up position. I think I have found her ooth so will hope to follow another generation of her relatives.

  2. Just watched a female on an outside potted plant who lived there for a month feeding and growing larger, then she mated with four different males and ate two or three of them during and after mating. Last time I saw her she had one male riding on her back (not mating) and another, headless, mating. Later in the day both were gone and she looked like she was leaving the plant, maybe to go lay?

  3. Just watching a female praying mantis eating a male. For an hour or so they have been joined, all the time, with the male having had his head bitten off, amazing! The male would be about one third the size of the female.

  4. Kyle I think this is awesome that you found this. This helped me with a project. I also think that it is so cool that they can do that kinda stuff. Well I am 9 years old,i’m a girl,and i’m in 3rd grade. Thank you for putting this on line so we can see it.

  5. That video is terrifying, lmao!!! The slow motion and sinister music as she shoves him with his arms flailing is hilarious!

  6. Does the female mount the headless male onto herself or does the headless male mount himself onto the female?

  7. I have been observing mantis for 3 years in a natural environment and females do not eat males, during or after mating.. or it is not a regular thing.
    Lab behavior shoul dnot be treated as fact.

  8. What would happen if you remove a male before the female eats his head? Would the male try to get to her? How would the female react?

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