We all know that praying mantises are formidable predators (aka badasses), capable of stealthily taking down a variety of prey with their lightning-fast reflexes and remarkably strong front legs. If you want some spectacular examples of mantids ambushing all sorts of animals, then turn your attention to YouTube where you’ll see a plethora of “battle” videos, including mice and snakes.
One particular video that piqued the interest of Popular Science writer Douglas Main was of a praying mantis attacking a hummingbird. As it turns out, YouTube actually has several videos exemplifying this, but they usually either only show the attack and not the aftermath, or a mantis chomping down on a hummingbird without showing the ambush. For example, in the video shown below, you can clearly see a mantis strike and grasp a hummingbird sipping from a feeder (skip to 0:36), but the video maker flicked the mantis off before we could see how the fight ends.
Main therefore decided to do some digging to see if he could find out whether these insects are indeed capable of successfully catching these birds. As it turns out, there are several documented examples of praying mantises snaring hummingbirds, albeit they’re pretty old. For example, a 1982 Biological Reviews paper entitled “Arthropods that prey on vertebrates” states that these insects are capable of catching small hummingbirds; however, it also goes on to say that actual observations are inconclusive due to the fact that all of the birds were freed by “concerned ornithologists.” This means that once again we don’t know whether the hummingbirds could have ultimately escaped, leaving the peeved praying mantises hungry.
There’s an even older, second-hand account from 1957 in The Wilson Journal of Ornithology which describes a man witnessing a praying mantis capturing a Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Once again, however, the observer intervened and the lucky bird was set free.
While they may not have made their way into a journal, there are also a couple of more recent eyewitness accounts where the observer didn’t intervene. In Bird Watcher’s Digest, a man describes how his son saw a praying mantis swiftly catch a hummingbird, impaling the victim through the chest with its spiny foreleg. The insect then proceeded to chomp down on the dead hummingbird’s flesh until it was full.
There’s also a piece in National Geographic from 2009 which features a fantastic photograph of a praying mantis hanging off a feeder with a hummingbird in its grips, and if you scroll down to the comments you’ll see various other stories from people who have seen the same thing in their backyards.
So, hummingbirds might be incredibly agile acrobats, but it seems that sometimes even these nifty birds are no match for the mighty praying mantis. Consider yourself lucky you're not mantis-sized, it looks a pretty grim way to go.
[Hat tip: PopSci]
[Header image "Face off!" by jeffreyw, via Flickr, used in accordance with CC BY 2.0]