Help! A giant egg laying creepy crawly with a swivelling alien head and human-like upper body that cannibalises its mate. This is the stuff of science fiction. Maybe it’s the inspiration for horror movies (think Alien for example). Perhaps this earthling really is the the source of our greatest fears and nightmares having been around for at least 135 million years.
Two enormous eyes atop a triangular swivelling head enable the Praying Mantis to see stereoscopically and detect movement as far as 60 feet away.
It catches its prey with two oversized raptorial front legs. The name ‘praying’ refers to the folded forelimbs as it waits motionless, ready to snatch insects and even small vertebrates such as lizards and frogs. Death occurs with a paralysing neck bite while the female Mantis decapitates the male and cannibalises it during mating so as to provide nutrients for the eggs. Some Mantis species do not ambush their prey when stationary but instead scamper along the ground to hunt.
Camouflage gives it ultimate advantage. Perched on a branch it merges undetected with its twig like anatomy and vegetative colouring. What’s ‘preying’ in the grass you ask? (see pic). The Mantis gently sways from side to side as it propels itself forward mimicking twigs and branches as they sway in the breeze. Males are capable of flying (see wing anatomy, main pic) and have developed aerobatic manoeuvres avoiding predators such as bats and have auditory senses to hear echo-locating calls.
So remember, if you have sleepless nights and are spooked by alien looking creatures that creep around and fly in the dark, be reassured they couldn’t possibly be the Praying Mantis..