Do praying mantis eat hummingbirds? Yes they absolutely do! While you may suspect photos of such an act are photoshopped. This is not the case. Praying mantis do indeed hunt and eat hummingbirds when the opportunity arises.
While many of the photos are amateur efforts, grainy and partially out of focus, there is plenty of recorded evidence of praying mantis feeding on hummingbirds.
Keep reading and you’ll learn some fascinating insights into this strange phenomenon of nature…
Why Do Praying Mantis Hunt Hummingbirds?
The question should be asked differently. It boils down to “Why Not?” rather than “Why?”. Praying Mantis are known to wait for pray, typically bees and insects, in leafy surroundings, especially when there are flowers bearing nectar.
They have now started to frequent manmade nectar feeders in developed countries, especially when they are placed too close to the wild habitats or shrubbery where carnivores like praying mantis typically hide.
Once a mantis is in hunting mode, it will literally spend 90% of its waking hours waiting for pray – whether on a flower stalk or on a feeder. It is constantly alert, knowing that it has to strike fast as a fast, blurry, buzzing and whirring small form approaches.
Oftentimes, it may be that the mantis cannot even distinguish the form its attacking to be a hummingbird. It has already launched into an attack with its powerful and sharp forearms – if so, and the attack is successful, it’s not within the mantis’ nature to let the pray go.
The other situation may be that the mantis is hungry, it has waited for a long time but no pray has shown up, so it attacks in desperation.
Small mantises will not be able to overpower a hummingbird sized pray. One of the main species identified as being capable of killing a hummingbird is the Chinese mantis (Tenodera sinensis) – not surprisingly, it is one of the largest mantids at around 4″ in length.
Even so, its initial lunge must be extraordinarily precise (read “lucky”) for a mantis to actually manage killing a hummingbird.
Are Hummingbirds a Preferred Food Source? Would Praying Mantises choose Something Else if Available?
As described above, praying mantises typically hunt for butterflies, moths, honey bees, wasps and spiders, plus other flying insects that happen to pass by. Occasionally, small vertebrates such as lizards, small snakes and frogs have also been known to succumb to praying mantis attacks.
Bird attacks usually happen either by mistake or due to extreme hunger. Once in attack mode, though, the mantid’s kill or be killed fighting instincts kick in – they will rarely let go of a pray in their grasp.
Will a Praying Mantis Eat Other Types of Bird?
Praying mantises do attack other small birds – besides hummingbirds – that visit nectar sources, such as vireos, wrens, house finches, goldfinches, chickadees and warblers. However, most of these species are larger than hummingbirds and more capable of escaping such attacks.
Are Hummingbirds Nutritious for Praying Mantis?
Praying mantises typically attack with their powerful and sharp front legs, while latching on to a surface (leaf, flower stalk, maybe a nectar feeder wall or mesh) for leverage. No venom is involved, they will start feeding on a victim impaled by the two front legs while the hapless victim squirms in agony.
A mantid will devour what’s inside its pray, leaving the outside shell alone – you will often find “husks” of dead insects with their insides sucked out after they have been attacked, killed and devoured by mantids, who are after the material rich in nutrients, a high protein and minerals diet in other words.
The same is true of what a praying mantis will do to a hummingbird, if and when it manages to successfully impale such an unfortunate creature. In most cases, the mantid will bite into the hummingbird’s head, neck or throat.
It tends to suck out the inner organ, blood and brains, leaving the feathers, bill, feet and bones collapsed on the ground below – however, there are cases when the bird is de-feathered and/or eaten whole.
How successfully this operation proceeds and how much of the bird gets eaten depends on the size, ferocity and hunger of the mantid.
The method of feeding has given rise to some of the more gruesome photos of praying mantis attacks on hummingbirds, where the mantid is seen (for example) drilling into the skull of a hummingbird and in the process of sucking out its brain matter. Images of scalping the bird have also been documented.
Are Praying Mantis Hunting Hummingbirds a Common Occurrence?
It’s hard to directly answer this question, it depends on your definition of “common”. But there have been dozens, if not hundreds, of verified cases of praying mantis attacks on hummingbirds reported around the world, which in turn means that there were probably a significantly higher number of unrecorded and/or unreported cases.
In 1917, researchers from the University of Basel documented 147 cases of praying mantis feeding on small birds. All in all, they found reports of 12 different species of mantids attacking and killing 24 different species of birds, including 7 different hummingbird species.
The report concludes that such killings had been “widespread” and that mantids seem to “prefer” hummingbirds among the avian class of pray.
A Scientific American article published recently mentions the red-throated hummingbird as a particularly vulnerable species (see below).
Where in the World Does this Happen?
Praying mantis attacks have been documented over a wide swathe of the world, stretching from the far reaches of Northern China to North America and South America to Australia.
The cases recorded by the University of Basel scientists spanned 13 countries, including one documented case in Canada (in Hamilton, ON).
Quite a few occurrences, outside of the Basel list, have been reported in the US. Easy internet searches will reveal descriptions and photos, such as this one published in the US edition of the Birdwatcher’s Digest by someone from West Chester, PA:
This Scientific American blog provides more details about how the mass introduction of praying mantis over the US has contributed to the phenomenon of praying mantis attacks on hummingbirds, along with video evidence:
Is the Hummingbird a Danger to the Mantis?
Hummingbirds do not survive on nectar alone – they eat insects for protein and are known to feed on tree sap. Even so, It is hard to characterize the hummingbird as a specific and major threat to the mantis – they are just one type of insect that the hummingbird may come across.
The flip side is actually true, that mantids pose more of a danger to a dozen or so species of small hummingbirds.
Even the most aggressive bull hummingbirds, while they could be pushing out other birds away from their food, are rarely looking at mantids when they approach the source of nectar – unless of course they are being attacked, but that is on a purely defensive mode.
If you want to know more about what other things Mantis are likely to eat, then check our articles on:
Are Humans Responsible for Increases in Attacks?
As alluded to earlier, humans definitely play a role in creating an environment where predator and pray come together more frequently. In particular, nectar feeders placed in gardens or farms will attract honey bees, wasps etc. but also hummingbirds.
Oftentimes, the property owner may also introduce praying mantises into the garden for pest control – bringing the birds and the insects close together.
Secondly, if the nectar feeders are placed close to copses of trees or high shrubberies, they will surely draw praying mantises to the nectar feeders – it’s in their nature to go where they think pray will arrive at.
One of the spots where a hummingbird may be hung out to dry, so to speak, are the feeder and safety nets – a bird snared on one is immobilized for a short while, which could allow a praying mantis the time to swoop in for the kill.
Some of this is inevitable, but some precautions can be taken. While the proximity of nature feeders to hiding spots for mantids have given rise to some of the more spectacular, if grisly, photographic proof of the insects feeding on birds, it would behoove nature and hummingbird lovers to take some basic precautions while setting up their nectar feeders.
One possibility is to place nectar feeders out in the open, or at the least, place them further away from shrubbery. Low bushes may not present as much of a threat. Another is to place a wide bird feeder as a cover over the hummingbird cover.
This will deter the ability of the praying mantis to latch on to a convenient surface when it attacks from a perch. However, some mantids can fly so there can be accidents.
In Conclusion …
The verdict is clear. Praying mantises can, and will if they can, attack and eat small bird species, especially hummingbirds. If it’s happening in the wild, chalk it up to the laws of survival in nature.
If, however, such attacks have taken place in your own backyard, you may want to rethink the positioning of your nectar feeders and take other precautions to help keep your tiny avian visitors safe from the attacks of predatory praying mantises.
If you want to learn more about various insects, then checkout our site categories, we have a bunch of articles there that are totally worth reading:
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All the best
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