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The Praying Mantis – The Insect that Eats Heads

The praying mantis family is composed of persistent, ruthless predators, and catching a glimpse of their hunting behaviour is a little frightening delight. They lie, well camouflaged in their wait for the arrival of prey, with their spiny, grasping front legs upraised and pincers partially opened, poised for the catch. Their heads can swivel up to 360 degrees, with eyes twitching and following the movement of the fragile footsteps of prey. They snare in a heartbeat, completely trapping prey in their pincers which makes a quick bite for lunch – no limbs left behind.

Praying Mantis

Sounds a little scary? The insect that resembles a miniature alien in appearance and perfectly equipped with weapons that can trap slash and kill… well imagine what life is like in their bedroom?

In the mantid world, males don’t earn a manly “don’t mess with me status” nor can depend on their good looks. And what’s in replacement of this? A mouth-watering vision of lunch either during or after sex.

When a male mantid is attracted by the scent of the female, he will slowly creep up behind her, secure a perfect grip on her body and copulate. It’s rather cheeky; he has made no effort to perform a courtship ritual, nor has even asked or granted permission. But nevertheless, this type of behaviour is “appropriate” for a male mantid, and if he doesn’t behave appropriately, he may inflict trouble.

Praying Mantis

Image Credits: Stanley Suttton

The position he approaches the female is crucial to everything. If he approaches her from the front he may immediately be met with death by decapitation. Even sneaking up behind the female correctly, but placing his grip just a little off key may result in losing his head whilst the female continues to receive his sperm.

During some cases of copulation, the impulsive female partially eats the male (often targeting the head) before copulation begins. She leaves the headless male swinging his legs wildly in the air, until his body touches hers, where he will climb on and copulate as if its just a normal Monday. Apparently – headless males make great lovers.

Image Credits: Aperture Value

Above image: “The scene seen through my macro tube was quite horrifying, also because in this case, the female started eating her partner before the mating, beginning from his mouth, after immobilizating his claws, in order to leave him without defences. After that, the male, totally deprived of his head, completed the mating, while the female continued eating him” – Aperture Value

But surely headless sex can’t exist? Surely a loss of the head will result in a bloody death?

Copulation in mantids is a wild and weird one.  In most species (including ourselves) copulatory movements are controlled and co-ordinated by the nervous system, with the mass of nerve tissues located in the brain. So let’s just say a male’s head was munched off by a female during sex in humans (the weird visions begin to pour in), the male would most certainly lose almost all co-ordination and control of his body, as the nervous connection between the body and head would be torn apart.

In mantids, the location for the nerve tissues involved in copulatory movements is stored in the abdomen, so whilst the female munches on male brain juices, his performance in the field is not jeopardised. Sneakily, females often remove the head during sex to gain a better performance. When the head is lost, the males control is also lost, allowing the female to copulate as many times she feels necessary – hence the previous statement – headless males make great lovers.

Image Credits: Stanley Suttton

Above Image: Copulation is complete, the female has successfully laid her eggs in a safe place.

The poor male can often lose his head during courtship through no fault of his own. If a pair of breeding mantids are disturbed the immediate reaction of the frightened female is to whip around, snatch the males head in her gluttonous mandibles and chomp.

Image Credits: Daniel King

Above Image: Another devour of the males head after sex.

Overall, there are approximately eighteen hundred species of mantids and during courtship cannibalism is not as common as you would think. Sexual cannibalism only occurs in a minority of these species, so I guess it’s only fair to reflect some sympathy on those males that are forced to perform headless sex.

Image Credits: Parabola-Pop

This potential behaviour of cannibalism, you would think would slightly ruin the mantids good reputation? But worldwide, people still relate to these insects with holiness. It’s obvious that their characteristic postures of “praying” – front legs held together outstretched towards the heaven receives great respect.

But… maybe, just maybe could the females be praying for forgiveness of their greedy appetite during sex?

Image Credits: Danny Perez Photography

Around the Web

  • http://dankingphotos.wordpress.com/ Dan king Photos

    Utterly fascinating creatures to watch and photograph. Great article Emma

  • Mark

    Very insightful article, Emma. I’m glad us humans haven’t adopted this mating ritual. :)

  • Dawnndell

    emma you cease to amaze me with your articles very very intersting glad we dont do it the same way as they do lol

  • Hgfdhdhfc

    We brought an ootheca into our house and raised it. It hatched and there were tiny, itty bitty mantids all over the wall! We carefully scooped them back into their aquarium (we used a big one to raise them in) and watched them grow over the weeks. They’re cannibalistic! We went from having over one hundred mantids to just one! The strongest female survives.

  • Martharose

    Excellent piece. Very formative. I appreciate insects more now.

  • Paolo

    Great article, a brilliant analysis of the behaviour of these small-scale monsters.

  • Denny

    Such an interesting read, this has grasped my interest the most out of all the posts here on greenbuzz

  • Gimmy_bobs

    FASCINATING!

  • Kim_clarkeoffice

    Brilliant post! made me laugh but admire nature at the same time!

  • ff

    wow im going to gdo that