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A Reversal of Fortune

March 26, 2013

Gorongosa National Park is heaven for praying mantids – nowhere else in the world have I seen so many different species or similarly high abundance of these insects. This appears to be a good indicator of the overall condition of this ecosystem, with almost unlimited availability of prey. Usually this means grasshoppers and other insects, but occasionally arachnids and even small lizards fall prey to some of the mantids.

Photo: Miomantis is a large genus of small, delicately built praying mantids, with about 75 species known from across Africa. Females, like this individual, are usually short winged, while males are fully winged and are excellent fliers.


Last night I was walking along a path in the camp and noticed a small praying mantis of the genus Miomantis getting ready to catch a fat green spider that was beginning to spin a web by one of the lights that illuminated the pathway. These mantids are no longer than a half of your pinky finger and delicate in their built, and usually feed only on small flying insects. But this female was clearly very hungry. She struck the spider and caught it in her raptorial front legs. “Good for you”, I thought, “this will be enough food to produce several clutches of eggs.”


I decided to take a photo of this feat and ran to get my camera. But when I came back I saw that the situation had turned tragic for the huntress – the spider had managed to free itself from her clutches, bit her, and was quickly spinning strands of silk around her. The spider was slightly injured, too, as evidenced by droplets of hemolymph oozing from several points on its body but, in the end, it won fair and square.

Photo: This poor mantis clearly overestimated her hunting abilities – the spider she had caught not only managed to escape her grip, but also killed and eventually ate most of her.


By Piotr Naskrecki


Read more on his blog The Smaller Majority


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