Quirks and Quarks

Scientists find male praying mantises taking a stand against cannibal females

Male springbok mantises violently wrestle and sometimes injure females they fight to mate — and survive.

Male springbok mantises violently wrestle and sometimes injure females they fight to mate — and survive

The female mantis is famous for cannibalizing the male (Submitted by Nathan Burke)

Originally published on January 30, 2021.

Female praying mantises of many species cannibalize their mates, who often have no defence against their large and aggressive partners. 

But a new study by Nathan Burke, a postdoctoral research fellow in biological sciences at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, has found that that is not always the case. The male Springbok mantis can be the aggressor, and does what it takes to win the fight in order to successfully mate - and survive. 

This photo shows a wound inflicted on the female Springbok mantis by the male during a violent mating encounter (Submitted by Nathan Burke)

Hyper cannibalism

In the Springbok species the female is described as 'hyper cannibalistic,' eating her mate often without any mating even taking place.

As a result the male Springbok mantis goes to extraordinary - and very risky - lengths to pass on his genes, and live another day.

He sneaks up on the female and launches a surprise attack by leaping on top of her. What follows is a violent wrestling match, in which the female often gets stabbed by the sharp, dagger-like claws of the male, and begins to bleed. The male uses his front legs to grab hold of her and pin her down. 

Pre-mating struggle showing smaller male wrestling with larger female and winning the encounter by grabbing hold of her first. A male-inflicted puncture wound results in the loss of haemolymph - or blood - for the female (Nathan Burke)

Researchers observed this behaviour in 52 pairs of mantises. If the male won, mating was achieved in 58 percent of all encounters. If the female won, she almost always cannibalized the male without him getting an opportunity to mate. 

By attacking the female, the male greatly increased his mating chances, and significantly reduced the risk of being cannibalized. 

A female unsuccessfully tries to grab hold of a male (Nathan Burke)