Animals Wildlife 10 Wondrous Praying Mantis Facts They have excellent vision, eerie camouflage, and uncanny athleticism. By Melissa Breyer Editorial Director Hunter College F.I.T., State University of New York Cornell University Melissa Breyer is Treehugger’s editorial director. She is a sustainability expert and author whose work has been published by the New York Times and National Geographic, among others. our editorial process Melissa Breyer Updated November 30, 2020 Treehugger / Hugo Lin Share Twitter Pinterest Email Animals Wildlife Pets Animal Rights Endangered Species Named for prominent front legs that fold together in a gesture suggesting devotion, the praying mantis comes off as serene and soulful. They are not as docile as they appear, however. In fact, praying mantises are ambush predators with lightning-fast moves. These are fascinating creatures that have mastered their place in the natural world. About 2,000 known mantis species exist around the world, exhibiting a wide and awe-inspiring array of adaptations to their environments. Here are ten fascinating facts about the remarkable praying mantis. 1. They Have Great Vision Excellent vision helps ambush-hunting mantises get a jump on their prey. David Campling / EyeEm / Getty Images Praying mantises possess stereo vision, and thanks to the placement of their eyes, they also have a wide field of vision. Each of their eyes has a fovea — a concentrated area of photoreceptor cells that lets them focus and track with acuity. And not only can mantises see in 3-D, but research has found their 3-D vision works differently from all previously known forms in nature. Aside from revealing more about mantises themselves, this could help scientists develop better vision in robots. 2. They Are Head Turners Mantises are the only insects capable of turning their heads from side to side. Being able to turn its head without moving the rest of its body is a key advantage for a mantis when hunting, allowing for minimal movement as it sneaks up on prey. 3. They Are Agile Like Cats To the surprise of scientists filming them, mantises have been found to jump with extreme precision, contorting their body midair to land on a precarious and specific target. Watch the video above; athletic, right? 4. They Make Swift Work of Their Prey Praying mantises wait to ambush or patiently stalk their prey, but once they’re ready to strike, they do so with lightning speed, attacking with those big front legs so quickly it’s hard to see with the naked eye. In addition, they have spikes on their legs to skewer and pin the victims into place. 5. They Are Masters of Disguise An orchid mantis perches atop flower petals. Adegsm / Getty Images Praying mantises are supremely gifted in camouflage. They come in the form of leaves and sticks and branches, like many insects, but also take it a bit further. Some mantises molt at the end of a dry season to become black, conveniently timing their transformation to coincide with the blackened landscape left by brush fires. The flower mantises are amazing — some wildly ornate, others looking so convincing that unsuspecting insects come to collect nectar from them ... and become dinner. 6. They Only Eat Live Food Praying mantises are carnivores with a taste for live food. They can provide some helpful pest control to gardeners, as they eat potentially destructive insects like beetles, crickets, and grasshoppers. However, they aren't picky eaters — they're also known to prey on helpful insects like native bees and butterflies, so their overall effect on pest control is difficult to predict. 7. They Are Ambitious Predators Some mantises are known to prey on hummingbirds. Mike Lewinski / Flickr / CC BY 2.0 Mantises don’t stop at eating insects. They also target other arthropods like spiders, and sometimes even small vertebrate animals. Some mantises are known to prey on hummingbirds, for example, as well as warblers, sunbirds, honeyeaters, flycatchers, vireos, and European robins, in addition to frogs and lizards. 8. They Do Have Predators of Their Own Chameleons are among the animals that prey on praying mantises. engabito / Getty Images Even though they stalk hummingbirds and are masterful hunters, praying mantises are also hunted themselves. Their predators include frogs, lizards, and birds, as well as certain kinds of spiders. 9. They Battle with Bats Praying mantises are also preyed upon by bats, but they are no easy victim. They can detect the bats’ echolocation sounds and when they are approached, they dive to the ground, often executing spirals and loops on their way. If caught, they try to slash their way to freedom by use of their big spiky front legs. 10. They Engage in Sexual Cannibalism Male praying mantises do not always survive the mating season. Between 13 and 28 percent of mating encounters end with sexual cannibalism, in which the female praying mantis bites off the head of the male and eats him. In a 2016 study, researchers found that females that cannibalized their male partner produced significantly more eggs than those that did not, suggesting that their cannibalistic behavior may increase the chance of reproductive success.