We tend to think that birds have the upper hand when it comes to preying on insects, but there are some cases where the tables are turned and the results are fairly terrifying. Praying mantises are known to occasionally snack on a fair few vertebrates, from lizards to salamanders, but a new study has found that their taste for birds is surprisingly widespread.
Published in The Wilson Journal of Ornithology, researchers have documented over 140 different incidences of praying mantises feasting on birds. In the process, they found that the behavior is far more prevalent than previously thought. It turns out that rather than being limited to a few species in a couple of locations, all around the world the insects are plucking birds from the air and devouring their flesh.
It has been long been known that the predatory insects sometime, rather horrifyingly, take a fancy to eating creatures with a backbone. There have been reports of praying mantises predating on a wide range of animals, such as frogs, newts, mice, snakes, soft-shelled turtles, and even bats. But the researchers wanted to focus on how frequently the insects preyed on birds. To do this, they scanned a variety of sources for references and reports detailing the event.
From scientific literature, books, social media posts, and newspapers, they found that 12 different species of the insects in 13 different countries – on all continents except Antarctica – had been eating birds. “The fact that eating of birds is so widespread in praying mantises, both taxonomically as well as geographically speaking, is a spectacular discovery,” says the University of Basel’s Martin Nyffeler, who led the study, in a statement.
While 24 different species of birds were found to be eaten, most of the birds that fell to the mantises were species of hummingbirds, with the ruby-throated hummingbird being the most unfortunate. This is probably due to their size, with the females of some large species of mantis easily weighing more than that of the hummingbirds. In fact, the researchers found that the artificial feeders people put out to help the tiny birds, as well as the flowers they naturally feed upon, were particularly favored by the feisty insects, which would simply sit and wait for the birds to come land on it.
They also found that certain larger species of mantises that had been released into the wild as pest control could be of particular concern if they are large enough to catch birds. They found that these insects can and do pose a threat to some bird populations and that caution should therefore be taken.