Mantid Mating

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Sexual Suicide On My Pineapple Guava
Latest Update W.P. Armstrong, 6 October 2021
The Mating Behavior Of A Preying Mantis (cf. Stagmomantis)
  Link To Wayne's Word Sexual Suicide Article  

On 29 September 2021, I noticed a large, green, female praying mantis (mantid) on a hummingbird feeder hanging from my pineapple guava (Feijoa sellowiana). Most references use the term "praying" because they often hold their raptorial forelegs in a "prayerlike" position. I prefer "preying" rather than "praying" because I don't think these insects are that religious. At least three species occur in San Diego County: California mantid (Stagmomantis californica), Arizona mantid (S. limbata), and Mediterranean mantid (Iris oratoria). Several other similar-appearing mantid species are reported from the California region. We also have tiny ground mantids in our local hills and valleys. Mantids have also been purchased at nurseries and released as an effective method of biological pest control.

  The Remarkable Insect Order Mantodea, Family Mantidae  

Resident mantids in my yard have discovered that hummingbird feeders attract yellowjackets and honey bees, favorite foods of the mantids. On one occasion the female discussed here raised her wings in what appeared to be a threat posture. The approaching hummingbird was frightened away. On 4 October 2021 a smaller, brown, male mantid appeared interested in the female. He obviously saw her and was waving his body back and forth, presumably to attract her attention. His behavior seemed unwise based on what I had read about cannibalistic mantids; however, I wasn't sure these stories were true. So I decided to document this couple's mating behavior with my digital Nikon SLR.

Another resident mantid at Wayne's Word hunting yellowjackets & honey bees on my hummingbird feeder. The mantids have discovered the feeders attract more than hummingbirds!

This male mantid appeared interested in the female on hummingbird feeder. Based on my previous knowledge of mantids, I thought perhaps he was in grave danger of committing sexual suicide. He is considerably smaller than her, and mantids are known to be cannibalistic.

Early the following day (5 October 2021) they met on a branch above the hummingbird feeder. After a brief "get acquainted" period, he climbed on her back and assumed the standard mantid copulatory position. They remained in this position all afternoon and into the evening. She moved around on the branches with the male suitor on her back, tightly grasping her thorax with his raptorial forelegs. Since she was gradually moving out of reach on the pineapple guava, I decided to bring the couple in for the night. I placed them in a terrarium containing pineapple guava branchlets where they could be readily observed.

Copulation between male & female mantid near my hummingbird feeder. They remained united throughout the afternoon and evening, although the female climbed higher in the pineapple guava tree with the male on her back.

More Copulation Images In Pineapple Guava With Male On Female's Back

The mantid couple remained in their copulatory position (see above image) all afternoon and evening. I checked on them repeatedly in my darkened room until after 9:00 PM. Then they suddenly changed positions. She grabbed her smaller, amorous mate and rapidly began to devour him! Her mouth action reminded me of inserting a tree branch into a brush chipper as his body gradually disappeared into her mouth. Her darkened eyes apparently aid in night vision. Their sinister appearance is not related to the consumption of her hapless mate. The following day I tried to tempt her with a fresh honey bee, but she rejected all of my feeding attempts. I guess she wasn't hungry after consuming her mate. I plan to release her on the pineapple guava tree. Maybe she will find a place to lay her egg mass (ootheca) and hopefully another generation of mantids will appear next spring.

The mantid couple remained in their copulatory position all afternoon and evening. Then, suddenly they changed positions and she quickly devoured her smaller, amorous mate! Her darkened eyes apparently aid in night vision. Their sinister appearance is not related to the consumption of her mate.

More Images Of Female Mantid Devouring Her Mate

Following Concluding Paragraphs Are From
The Wayne's Word Sexual Suicide Article

  Wayne's Word Sexual Suicide Article  

Although there is some disagreement among authorities, sexual encounters between praying mantids often result in a horrifying experience for the hapless male. Praying mantids are well-adapted for capturing and demolishing prey with strong, grasping (raptorial) forelegs, powerful jaws (mandibles), and a triangular head and large eyes resembling an alien creature from a science fiction movie. Mantids spend all summer preying upon all sorts of insects and spiders, periodically molting their exoskeleton and enlarging their bodies. After about two weeks following his final molt, the male mantis reaches sexual maturity and begins to seek out a female. Like other males (including humans) he is driven by genetic programming and an irresistible scent secreted by the female.

Experimenting with European mantids, K.D. Roeder of Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, has made some startling observations on the brutal sexual behavior of these remarkable insects. Since the male is smaller than the female, he can be overpowered by her rather easily. Therefore, he must approach her very cautiously and slowly, preferably while she is busy grooming herself or catching and feeding upon another insect victim. If he approaches her carelessly (like in a Peter Sellers comedy), he very likely will never live to pass on his genes. If his approach is successful he mounts her back, tightly clasping her with his forelegs and penetrating her ovipositor with his penis apparatus. Occasionally the female is not receptive to the male's advances, and quickly turns on him--biting off his head. Curiously enough, a reflex mechanism in the male allows him to complete the mating process without his head.

Kenneth D. Roeder, LillianTozian, and Elizabeth A. Weiant. 1960. "Endogenous Nerve Activity and Behaviour in the Mantis and Cockroach." Journal of Insect Physiology: Volume 4, Issue 1, March 1960, Pages 45-48.

Susan Rilling, H. Mittelstaedt and K. D. Roeder. "Prey Recognition in the Praying Mantis." Behaviour: Vol. 14, No. 1/2 (1959), pp. 164-184 (22 pages).

After mating, the intact male (assuming that he didn't lose his head) often shows little or no inclination to escape from his savage mate. Although some males do escape unscathed, many are seized by the female and are dismantled and eaten organ-by-organ, often head first. Serving as a "last supper," the sacrificial male provides his mate with a meal in late autumn when insect food supplies may be scarce, and when she desperately needs vital time and energy to make several egg cases packed with hundreds of eggs. Like the black widow spider, the male mantid's sexual suicide is certainly not in vain.

A praying mantis egg case on maidenhair tree (Ginkgo biloba) at Wayne's Word. These egg cases (oothecas) may contain hundreds of eggs. The eggs will overwinter and nymphs will hatch in spring. Even the baby mantids are cannibalistic.