Praying mantises are scary insects, that is, if you are a bird.
Prepare to be shocked by the truth about praying mantises and their role as predators of small birds and small animals.
Have you ever noticed that when a praying mantis finds its way to your hummingbird feeder, the hummingbirds will fly away?
Have you ever wondered why a small bird should be so frightened by an even smaller insect?
Can a Praying Mantis Kill a Hummingbird?
As shocking as it sounds, a praying mantis can capture, kill, and devour a small hummingbird.
The scientific literature of ornithology records at least 147 observations of hummingbirds being killed by praying mantises from all over the world.
Praying mantises have been seen preying on hummingbirds in yards and gardens, in bird sanctuaries, and in state parks, and also on hummingbirds caught in nets.
These attacks occurred while the hummingbirds were feeding at feeders or on flowers.
There are photographs of a praying mantis eating a ruby-throated hummingbird in Green Castle, Missouri, a praying mantis eating Allen’s hummingbird in San Juan Capistrano, California, and a praying mantis eating a black-chinned hummingbird in Millwood, Colorado.
There are photos of praying mantises eating hummingbirds at 113 locations in the United States, plus India, Australia, and Spain.
In every one of these photographs, the praying mantis is seen hanging upside down over the bird.
The praying mantis grabs the bird’s head with its powerful legs. Then the mantis pierces an eye and quickly burrows into the hummingbird’s brain. All of this occurs in less than two seconds.’
Once the hummingbird has devoured the hummingbird brain, it lets the rest of the body fall to the ground.
Occasionally, a praying mantis will cut off the head while it is still eating the brain.
Also read: 12 Ways to Keep Racoons Away From Hummingbird Feeders
Factors Influencing the Outcome
Some factors that can impact the likelihood of a praying mantis killing a hummingbird include:
- Size of the mantis: Only large mantises have the ability to catch hummingbirds.
- Feeder location: Hummingbird feeders placed in open areas away from trees and shrubs make it easier for mantises to see and access the feeder.
- Hummingbird species: Ruby-throated hummingbirds are the most frequently caught species in the eastern United States, being more susceptible to mantis predation.
Overall, it’s important to be aware of these factors and regularly checks hummingbird feeders for praying mantises to protect the hummingbirds.
Also read: Do Hummingbirds Attack Each Other?
Surprising Facts About Praying Mantis Attacks on Hummingbirds
Here are some surprising facts about praying mantis attacks on hummingbirds and other small birds.
- The praying mantises that have been observed attacking birds have all been female. Sometimes they are getting ready to lay their eggs, but in two instances, the female praying mantis was seen mating with a male while it was eating the hummingbird’s brain.
- Birds attacked by praying mantises are always young and small, weighing less than 7 grams (1/4 of an ounce). In many cases, the mantis is twice as big as the bird.
- Praying mantises may also attack salamanders, newts, shrews, recently hatched soft-shell turtles, mice, lizards, and frogs. They feed on the brain, and leave the rest of the animal to be eaten by other predators.
- In the United States, praying mantises have also been observed attacking black-capped vireos.
A praying mantis may try to take a bite out of a human. You can just shake the mantis off.
It is not capable of burrowing through your eye into your brain.
And there is no reason to believe that a praying mantis intentionally attacks a bird.
In this article, we will share important facts about praying mantises with you, and tell you what you can do to protect your birds from these aggressive insects.
Praying Mantises Take Advantage of Targets of Opportunity
A praying mantis, as far as we know, does not have the ability to imagine its next victim and plan its attack.
Praying mantises attack hummingbirds because they are convenient.
You can often see a praying mantis on a hummingbird feeder.
Your squirrel baffle or bee protection won’t stop them from crawling down to the feeder.
They will cling just above a feeding port, where they can catch flies, moths, mosquitoes, roaches, grasshoppers, wasps, and bees.
Praying mantises have up to 10,000 ommatidia, compound eyes.
They have an area in the center of each eye called the fovea, which gives them the ability to focus on a creature they want to eat.
They detect their prey by sight. Once they begin feeding, they eat as much as they can.
Other than the brain, the legs, and the mandibles, a praying mantis is mostly the stomach.
Praying mantises can go as long as six weeks between meals.
In the United States, It’s Mostly the Chinese Praying Mantis That Attacks Birds
Worldwide, there are 2,400 species of mantises, all of them with triangular heads, bulging eyes, and elongated bodies.
In the United States, it is mostly the Chinese praying mantis that attacks birds.
The Chinese praying mantis originated, as you might suspect, in China. It was brought to the United States in 1896 by accident in a shipment of plants.
Chinese mantises are unusually aggressive. They will eat other small animals, and eat other praying mantises.
Even so, it is fair to say that they are picky eaters.
Chinese mantises have been seen eating monarch butterfly larvae, but spitting out the guts.
One entomological study found that about 50 percent of matings end with the female eating the male. Females that eat their mates lay about 25 percent more eggs than females that don’t.
Chinese mantises have some natural advantages over other praying mantises in North America.
Chinese mantises can eat pollen. They mature more rapidly from egg to adult when food is scarce, giving them an advantage over other insects.
Their motions are so quick that they inspired the Chinese art of kung-fu.
There Is a Reason Praying Mantises Don’t Really Help with Insect Control
There is a myth that praying mantises help control insect problems in the backyard and garden.
The smaller European mantises were imported into the United States about the same time in hopes they could control the spread of the gypsy moth.
Gypsy moths did not disappear after European mantises were brought to the United States.
Chinese mantises don’t control them, either.
The reason for this is that mantises will eat anything, not just the insects you want them to control. Mantises will eat ornamental butterflies and beneficial insects as well.
You can buy praying mantis eggs as “beneficial insects” online. When the egg case you place in your yard or garden begins to hatch, it will release about 400 tiny praying mantises.
These praying mantises will eat each other.
Then, the survivors will eat indiscriminately for the next seven months, until they grow to their full adult size.
Insect control with praying mantises is a nice idea, but it doesn’t really work.
Even worse, by buying non-native praying mantises and putting them in your yard or garden, you are contributing to the decline of native species.
Praying mantises can possibly be beneficial in a greenhouse, in a controlled environment.
Now, let’s consider another myth about praying mantises,
Praying Mantises Aren’t Really Praying
There was a time when many people assumed that praying mantises folded their “forearms” in prayer.
Not only does it hold its front limbs together in a prayerful pose, it sways back and forth as if it were chanting a liturgy.
Even the word mantis comes from the Greek term for prophet.
But from all the murderous activities we have described praying mantises, it should not surprise you that praying mantises don’t really pray.
A praying mantis has great vision. It can see another insect from 60 feet (20 meters) away.
When it is swaying back and forth, it is getting a better look at its next meal.
A praying mantis can eat 800 to 1,000 insects in its lifetime.
When it seems to be holding its front legs in prayer, look at the mouth. It is lapping up the last of the tiny particles left from its last meal.
A Male Praying Mantis That Is a Bad Lover Meets a Terrible Fate
To mate with a female, a male praying mantis jumps her. This move is just as quick as a mantis of either sex catching a bug.
If the male praying mantis does not land with the right organs lined up at the right places, the female judges him to be unworthy of contributing his DNA to her children.
She eats him. About 50 percent of the time, even when there has been a successful mating, the female eats the male for additional nourishment for her eggs.
Sometimes, the female bites off the male’s head during the act of copulation.
The transfer of sperm will continue for 30 to 40 minutes after the male has been decapitated.
But because eating the male enables the female to lay more eggs, the male that loses his life in the act of reproduction spreads his DNA to many more babies.
Praying Mantises Survive the Winter By Producing Eggs
If female praying mantises seem gruesomely fixated on eating their mate to produce more eggs, there is a reason.
The only way a praying mantis can survive cold weather is as an egg.
Some insects, like ants, survive the winter by burrowing under the ground.
Some insects, like beetles, survive the winter in their larval state, also buried under the ground. Butterflies may fly south for the winter like birds.
The adult praying mantis will die when the weather gets cold.
Before her death, the female lays her eggs into a sac that she glues to a stem, a twig, a rock, or even the side of the building.
When the weather warms the next spring, her hundreds of babies emerge, ready to eat every insect they see.
What Do You Do When You See Praying Mantises Near Your Hummingbird Feeder?
When you see praying mantises or any other undesirable insect by your hummingbird feeder, the last thing you want to do is to spray insecticide.
Bug killers don’t get rid of the insects you don’t want. They also kill the tiny midges and flies that hummingbirds eat for food.
Instead, put on gloves, gather up the praying mantises, and take them to another location.
It’s not illegal to kill a praying mantis, and it’s not bad luck to kill a praying mantis, but you do more good for your environment by allowing them to live elsewhere.
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