Why Do Praying Mantis Dance?

If you’ve ever encountered a praying mantis in nature, then you’ve surely noticed they like to move in swaying motions, as if they’re doing the MC Hammer signature dance from the You Can’t Touch This music video. 

But what makes this insect move its body in such an unusual way? There are several reasons why praying mantis dance. Usually, it’s either:

  • Seducing a partner
  • Mimicking the way nature moves
  • Trying to orientate in space
  • Acting tough
  • Preparing to leap

In this article, we’ll discuss different situations that make praying mantis go boogie. Want to know more? Then keep on reading!

Hiding From Predators

Did you know that there are over 2,400 species of praying mantis, classified into 29 families? These insects have slim, long bodies and earthy colors that allow them to seamlessly blend into the natural background.

But to truly stay shrouded and unnoticed by potential predators, they perform the so-called cryptic mimicry. This strategic behavior means they replicate not just the color and shape of the flora behind them, but also the movement.

In other words, they swing their bodies from side to side to resemble the way plants move in the wind. 

African ghost mantis is hard to beat in the art of disguise. Unless a ghost mantis is moving, it’s almost impossible to differentiate it from a dry, weathered leaf.

Being only 2 inches long, this species has a lot of natural predators, including birds, snakes and even spiders. But thanks to its cryptic look, it can easily stay below the radar.

Other species, like Choeradodis, have wide thorax and large, green wings. These bugs hide under the leaves and swing in light motions to mimic the light breeze to stay unnoticed by their predators.

But that’s not the only reason praying mantis likes to stay undercover, which brings me to the next point.

Catching The Prey

As you probably know, praying mantis is a predator. They wait concealed for their prey to approach before ambushing.

By strategically using the element of surprise, praying mantis assures the prey has no time or capability to escape the deathly attack. 

Take Hymenopus coronatus as an example. This species, also known as orchid mantis, lives in Southeast Asia, from Myanmar to Indonesia.

It’s usually pink and white, with iridescent legs that look like petals. Orchid mantis climbs on the flower and holds onto it with its claws.

Then, it swings in a dancing motion, trying to get the attention of small insects, such as beetles, butterflies and bees. This is the perfect ambush.

A luscious flower moving in the wind will attract an oblivious bug that will land on it to pollinate. Once it’s close enough, the praying mantis will snare it with spiked front legs before mercilessly killing it.

Usually, they feast on heads first. 

Scanning The Surroundings

Just like humans, the praying mantis has a three-dimensional vision. Its eyes consist of 10,000 ommatidia, which are independent photoreception units.

Each of these units points in slightly different directions, giving the praying mantis a large view angle of 180 degrees.

This, however, causes poor image resolution, except for the front portion of its eyes, which gives an acute vision. But while a praying mantis might see things a bit blurry, it can sense depth.

And to do so, it moves from side to side, trying that way to distinguish its target from the background. 

This was discovered in an experiment at Newcastle University, where scientists glued tiny 3D glasses on praying mantis. Then, they played a bunch of videos of moving dots on a matching background.

The insects attacked the dots, the same way cats chase lasers. This study proved that a praying mantis relies on motion to catch the target.

So when this insect appears to be dancing from side to side, it’s only trying to locate moving creatures and potential prey.

Escaping The Echo

While praying mantis sense their environment by focusing on change in motion, their biggest predators bats lean on echolocation. Contrary to popular opinion, bats are not blind.

But their night vision is no more than mediocre. In fact, they rely more on their ears than eyes to catch the prey in the dark.

When flying, bats give off sound waves of higher frequency than our ears can hear. Those waves bounce off objects in the bat’s surroundings, producing echoes.

Through sonar navigation, bats are able to discriminate between objects and creatures in the environment. 

What has this got to do with praying mantis? Well, these insects have a single ear located on their chests, right between the legs.

It’s capable of hearing most ultrasonic calls emitted by bats. As the sonar frequency increases with bats approaching, a praying mantis will sway as if dancing in order to dodge the attack.

At last, as the predator goes for the grab, this insect will do a power dive – it will perform a rapid downward maneuver to avoid getting caught. Quick reflexes ensure a safe escape about 80% of the time.

The Fatal Seduction

During late summer and early fall, praying mantis are starting to look for partners. Just like peacocks, male insects are courting females, trying to get them interested in mating.

To win them over, they show their best dance moves. If they’re successful, females will accept their invitation to intercourse. 

Unfortunately, about a quarter of mating encounters end violently. Female praying mantis are known to kill and eat their partner after, or even during their intercourse.

Usually, the first move is biting their heads off, which gives them a much-needed nutrient boost for laying eggs.

As for why females eat their partners after mating, scientists are not sure. There’s a theory that states that the ill fate of male praying mantis helps females produce more eggs.

Since this study was done on a small number of these insects, further research is required.

Intimidating The Enemy

These voracious carnivores kill and devour their prey in such a violent manner.

Still, most praying mantis feed on small flying insects, while the larger species have small birds and lizards on the menu as well. 

But while they might not be a threat to larger creatures, they won’t easily back down when threatened. In fact, a praying mantis knows that, sometimes, offense is the best defense.

In a somewhat theatrical manner, these insects will perform their battle dance to intimidate the enemy and discourage them from getting into combat. 

While moving from left to right, a praying mantis might make a hissing sound, fan its wings and raise its arms to make its appearance larger.

Certain species also have the eyespot pattern on their wings, which convincingly look like real eyes. These details allow them to bluff and appear larger and scare their predator. 

Interestingly enough, their bluffing works in most cases. Aside from spiders, bats, snakes, and certain bird species, most animals aren’t too interested in eating a praying mantis.

Furthermore, they might be worried that there must be an ulterior motive why this kung fu fighting insect is not running away from the fight.

If that’s an animal’s first encounter with a praying mantis, they won’t know if it’s poisonous, venomous, or even both.

As if that’s not enough, a praying mantis might spike up their rhythmic movement with sudden strikes and have a go at striking their enemy.

Just like that, a predator can easily become prey – or so does the praying mantis wants the attacker to believe. Most of us would probably want to run as far as possible from a very aggressive insect.

Bouncing Around In Bushes

Praying mantis don’t develop wings until adulthood. As nymphs, no praying mantis species can fly yet, but they’re all highly skilled in acrobatic leaps.

These insects can jump from one branch to another with such speed, grace and precision, even NBA players would envy them. Within a tenth of a second, they can jump across a distance of double their length.

But this maneuver can’t be done without a running start. First, a praying mantis starts to sway its body in dancing motions from side to side, as if calculating the distance.

Once ready, this insect will leap off by doing a perfectly calculated pirouette while mid-air. This little stunt allows the praying mantis to gain momentum to reach and land at the desired spot. 

This perfectly choreographed performance of aerial acts would surely leave no audience indifferent. Unfortunately, a praying mantis pulls off the stunt in the blink of a human eye, which is too fast for us to enjoy the show.

In Conclusion

Flying mantis often rock from side to side in rhythmic motions. They do this for a variety of reasons – whether they’re seducing a potential mate or trying to scare away their predator.

Whatever the situation, we can agree that it’s quite a spectacular sight. 

Alright, that’s it for this article, here are a few hand-selected articles that you might also find interesting reads:

Are Praying Mantises Poisonous? 5 Key Facts

What Do Praying Mantis Eat – The Definitive Answer!

What Color Are Praying Mantis? Blue, Green, etc…

Steve Foster

Mad about bugs and wanting to publish as many articles as I can to help educate people about these amazing beautiful creatures! For more info check out my about page https://schoolofbugs.com/about-steve-foster/

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