Giving It All For Love?

The courtship of the Praying Mantis is legendary in the United States, where in newsrooms *if it bleeds, it leads* and the marketing commandment is *sex sells*.

After stumbling upon this quaint coupling while deadheading the Verbenas in the Faire Lurie bed along the driveway, dashing back into the house for the camera and snapping a few images until the female protagonist appeared ready to lunge at me, it was fully expected that a story would be written about the male having to give up his life for love.

Clever song titles came to mind, such as Maneater and Love Hurts. But digging a little further into the files of Google revealed that the cannibalistic trait happens less often then widely believed, with the male flying away blissfully alive after the conjugal visit with the much larger female.

So, please forgive the rude intrusion by the pointing papparazzi, my lady. Your reputation will not be tarnished further here with unsubstantiated tales of ribald feasting on heads and thorax.

There are certain species of mantids more likely to engage in the violent behavior during and after mating, especially in captivity where there is not ample food for the female. Out in the wild, like in the Fairegarden, there is food aplenty since we do not spray pesticides or poisons in the garden here. There is also ample space and opportunity for the male to escape afterwards, not being in a cage or glass jar.

Information for this post was found on a blog containing research papers from Bryn Mawr College that can be seen by clicking

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18 Responses to Giving It All For Love?

  1. Mark and Gaz says:

    Very David Attenborough-ish photologue 🙂

    Hi Mark and Gaz, thank you for that high praise! I admit to having to look up David Attenborough, had heard the name but knew nothing about his work. Courtships of the wild kingdom are fascinating and the facts in the case of the praying mantis needed to be told. Who wouldn’t be angry if stuck in a glass jar with human eyeballs outside ogling the goings on? I am joking of course, anger has nothing to do with it, hunger does. It is calorie burning work giving birth.

  2. Fascinating, Frances. I don’t see praying mantises much anymore. I hope you are there when the hatchlings emerge. It’s a treat.

    Thanks Georgia. It has taken several years of gardening here to get the mantid population up. Now there are many of them, in all parts of the garden. I will be on the lookout for egg cases in this general area. I once was sitting on a bench under an arbor, at our other TN home, when the hatching occurred. Hundreds of little baby mantids came pouring down on us! It was exhilarating and a little scary until we saw what they were. Too wonderful!

  3. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Great photos Frances. I have often thought it odd that I have never seen the cannibalistic behavior. Not that I have caught them in this position many times but I haven’t heard anyone else say they have seen this either. Good to be reminded that nature does take care of itself.

    Thanks Lisa. To say how wildlife will behave when it is in captivity is misleading. FREEDOM!!!!

  4. Layanee says:

    I am sure they were not even aware of your intrusion, so bound by love they were. I haven’t seen any mantids here yet. I will have to look more closely. I’ll bet they are out there and I have just missed them.

    Um, I was nearly touching her with the camera, Layanee, she was quite well aware of me being there. I did not want to alarm her so was quick with the clicker. She moved to face me and actually came closer, carrying her paramour with her. She was one of the largest females I have ever seen. I hope to see egg cases there and will be careful not to cut down the stalk it is on in the winter. Do look around your garden. They are almost invisible on the green stems of taller plants.

  5. Spotting a praying mantis scrambling about always brings a little ping of joy to my heart. More often than not, I will entice it onto my finger for closer inspection. I love its dainty alien looking face. I did not know that the female was characteristically larger…always new to learn here in the cyber Fairegarden.
    By the way, what is your approach to deadheading Verbena bonariensis? Are you artful or brutal? Sometimes I just chop mine almost to the ground when they get too floppy and let them start over.

    Thanks for visiting, Michaele. I never touch the wildlife, it just somehow seems wrong for me to intrude, but I can get quite nosy with the camera! HA I have found that nearly constant cutting down of the Verbena bonariensis throughout the season, they have been blooming since May, makes for less flopping and more flowers. I cut them to about a foot tall, maybe taller at the end of the growing season so they have a chance to bloom again, always leaving some flowers for the pollinators. It is their favorite long blooming plant.

  6. super pictures THANK YOU stanton

    Thanks, Stanton, and thanks for stopping by.

  7. Mantis sex!! What a hoot. Great find in the garden. Your Ironweed looks great.

    Thanks Janet. At first I didn’t see the smaller male on her back, but when I did, I ran lickety-split for the camera, hoping they would still be in the throes of passion. Doing the research, I learned they can stay connected for up to six hours! Take that, viagra/Cialis!!! HA

  8. Dee A. Nash says:

    Cute post. Glad some of the guys get away.

    Thanks Dee. Yes, I was relieved to know that the handsome lover would not necessarily have to be eaten.

  9. sandy lawrence says:

    Frances, I’m not given to superlatives, so I’m sincere: These extraordinary photos are award-winning quality! Thank you so much for sharing them with your readers. I do so love the mantids and haven’t seen any here in 2 or 3 years. I used to find their egg casings, also. I use no sprays or insecticides but others do, sadly, so I’m wondering if that is the problem or if it is weather changes? A few years ago I had a huge female land on my shoulder blade while talking to the postman. He very kindly offered his finger as launch pad to a nearby shrub, since I couldn’t reach her easily. I used to see the ‘walking sticks’ fairly often, which I also find fascinating.

    Thanks so much, Sandy, for those kind words. I do appreciate you. Sometimes I get lucky with the camera. It helps when the object of my lens is holding still, too. We did no see any mantids here for several years since my neighbor was a huge believer in better living and gardening through chemicals. Now that they are gone, my mantid population is much higher.

  10. gail says:

    That was absolutely wonderful Frances. Glad to know that some males escape a horrible death! xoxogail

    Thanks Gail. I was happy to learn that, as well, and was not expecting that at all when doing the research.

  11. Well, it’s nice to know that when the male is eaten, it’s more a practical matter of the availability of food rather than one of those “you always hurt the one you love” situations. Somehow that is comforting.

    I had just thought it was another of Nature’s cruel jokes, the eating of the male, sometimes while still attached! It is not always so, and I was glad to learn of that, too.

  12. Great captures! I see lots of praying mantis in my garden, some very large females too but never caught them in the act. I have photographed many insects and toads during their ritual and always feel a little guilty intruding on their privacy but most of the time they don’t seem to mind. 🙂

    Thanks Karen. I did feel a little voyeuresque, but was happy she let me snap a few photos before acting alarmed. I very much did not want to break up the lovefest, wanting lots of little baby mantids in the spring. I took a photo of mating turtles last year, and did feel guilty about intruding on their privacy.

  13. indygardener says:

    Yes, “sex sells”. Those are great pictures. I’ve also read that mantids will help lost children return home and they can also point the direction that a young maiden should go in to find her future husband. Fascinating insects!

    Thanks Carol. There are many attributes given to these wonderful mantids. May all the lost children be led home by them.

  14. commonweeder says:

    Beautiful pictures as always, and really wonderful information. It is always good to have common knowledge clarified.

    Thanks Pat. I was surprised to find that common bit of info to be false, happily so for the male.

  15. Frances, wonder how many hours would constitute a mantis erectile emergency worthy of a hospital visit? Love the fact he’s so petite – see, size doesn’t matter after all. I adore finding interesting creatures doing interesting things – just one more reason to spend time in the garden.

    Hi Barbara, thanks for visiting. The research said the mantids can be connected for up to six hours. He was a little guy, wasn’t he? She was larger than any female I have ever seen, too. As for spending time in the garden, I do so as much as possible!

  16. ZielonaMila says:

    Beautiful photographs, fantastic colours, the first signs of the autumn. I am greeting

    Hi Mila, thanks for the kind words and welcome! Yes, fall is nearly here, the leaves are just beginning to turn.

  17. Rose says:

    Fantastic photos, Frances! I have been fascinated by praying mantises ever since a few years ago when I seemed to have a whole community of them in my garden. I also managed to capture one photo of a pair mating–but nothing like these amazing close-ups–and did some research on them for a blog post. That’s when I first learned of the females’ cannibalistic nature. Glad to know it “ain’t necessarily so”! Ha, ha, still chuckling over “Maneater”:)

    Thanks Rose. I was surprised to find out that the female is not the bad guy so often made out to be, especially when wild and free. You always get my little jokes!

  18. RobinL says:

    I see so many praying mantis here, that I too was curious about their mating rituals. I was quite pleased to discover, like you did, that cannibalism is rare. After all, I’d like for them to continue visiting my garden without fearing for their life!

    Hi Robin, thanks for adding to the conversation here. Lucky you to have many of the mantids in your garden. We all want them to live without fear!

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