I’m pretty surprised that I haven’t written about a praying mantis yet. They are well-known for being fierce bugs, and what’s more fun than discussing vicious, bloodthirsty animals on a Wednesday morning? Especially when the animal has the word ‘devil’ in its name.

The devil’s flower mantis is found in southwest Africa, from Malawi to Kenya and Somalia. They can be found in areas that contain flowers, as these mantises are part of a group of mantises that imitate flowers for diabolical purposes.

Devil’s flower mantises are big mantises, and are one of the largest species of mantis. Females are bigger than males, reaching lengths of 13 cm, while males only get to 10 cm. In order to mimic flowers, these mantises have to be pretty ornate, and the devil’s flower mantis certainly is. When they perform a threat display devil’s mantises can have combinations of red, white, blue, purple and black. It looks pretty impressive.

A really neat picture of a female devil's mantis in a threat display, used to ward off predators.  Image source: http://www.keepinginsects.com/praying-mantis/species/devils-flower-mantis/
A really neat picture of a female devil’s mantis in a threat display, used to ward off predators.
Image source: http://www.keepinginsects.com/praying-mantis/species/devils-flower-mantis/

The idea of impersonating a flower is based on the fact that insects like flowers. Flies, butterflies, moths and beetles are all attracted to bright, pretty flowers. The mantis will find a suitable plant with flowers on it, and then climb onto a flower. The insect will then grasp the stem with its hind legs and stay perfectly still. Flies and other bugs will come to the flower, attracted by the flower and also by a black spot on the mantis that resembles a fly. When a large enough bug lands near or on it, the mantis strikes and the hapless fly is swiftly grabbed by the devil’s mantis’s leg. And then in typical mantis style the prey is decapitated by the mantis’s mandibles and eaten.

You may have heard about a terrible habit of female mantises – consuming their mates. This does happen in the wild, though it is much more common when mantises are kept captivity.  To attract males, female mantises raise their wings and lower their body to release pheromones that call to nearby males. The resulting copulation may induce predatory behaviours in the female that result in an unfortunate ending for the male.

Some young devil's flower mantises. They aren't as cool as adults, but they do look like dead leaves.  Image source: Wikipedia
Some young devil’s flower mantises. They aren’t as cool as adults, but they do look like dead leaves.
Image source: Wikipedia

While they may be vicious and look kind of terrifying, I also think the devil’s flower mantis is pretty, in a ‘I am going to kill you’ kind of way. But that’s what make mantises so cool — they look both deadly and fascinating at the same time.

Cover image source: http://fc01.deviantart.net/fs70/f/2010/110/9/1/Idolomantis_Diabolica_by_icecrown88.jpg

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