Female praying mantises are famous for devouring their lovers, but they don’t actually get to mate as often as most people might think, says William Brown of the State University of New York Fredonia, who worked with film-maker Phil Hastings to record the mantises’ behaviour. “Cannibalism happens in about 16 per cent of encounters,” he says. “The male often gets away.”
This unlucky male praying mantis is being eaten alive by his own mate.
It all depends on how hungry the female is. Chinese mantids like these breed in the autumn, unlike many animals that do so in the spring. “Summer is ending and other insect food is becoming scarce,” says Brown. “Males are large compared with other food items, so they’re nutritious.”
The females often go for the male’s head first, possibly because he approaches her from the front. This severs a nerve called the suboesophageal ganglion, removing the male’s sexual inhibitions and causing him to mate for longer. After this, says Brown, “he’s willing to mate with anything: your finger, a pencil, it doesn’t matter. The male can mate perfectly well without his head.” There is a myth that the males can only mate once their heads are bitten off, but Brown says that isn’t true.