Praying mantises are known for their strange alien appearance, their inspiration of a kung fu form, and the fact that females bite the male's head off and devour his body for nourishment after mating.
But did you know praying mantises also prey on birds?
Neither did I, but apparently the praying mantis has developed a taste for bird brains so they've added birds to the list of creatures they will prey upon when they're hungry.
A group of zoologists from the U.S. and Switzerland studied 147 cases hoping to find clues about this strange act of bug-on-bird predation:
The group's findings, which were recently published in the Wilson Journal of Ornithology, suggest that mantises all over the world are chowing down on unsuspecting avians. Praying mantises were observed eating 24 different bird species across 14 families. Nearly 70 percent of accounts happened in North America, where tiny hummingbirds were the most common prey. States with the highest incidents of this, according to the study, were New York, North Carolina, Texas, Arizona, and California.
"In the older literature, there are all sorts of anecdotes of mantises eating bizarre prey, such as centipedes and poisonous spiders, but these were usually 'Gladiator' encounters where investigators would throw together a mantis and another fearsome invertebrate in a jar or cage," Michael Maxwell, the study's co-author and a behavioral ecologist at National University, told me in an email.
Interestingly, this behavior was observed on every continent except Antarctica, spanning twelve mantid species—something the study's lead author Martin Nyffeler, a senior lecturer at the University of Basel, called "a spectacular discovery" in a statement.
"For many of us, the most surprising thing about the new study is the range of non-hummingbirds recorded as mantis prey," Kaufman added. "The others are all very small songbirds, but still, some of them must weigh as much as one-third of an ounce, which seems like a lot for any insect to deal with."
Weirdly, all of the mantises were identified as female. Females aren't necessarily more aggressive, but they do engage in sexual cannibalism if very hungry. Twice, female mantids were observed feeding on a bird while also mating with a male.