Fascinating Orchid Mantis Mimics Flowers to Attract Unsuspecting Prey

The orchid mantis, named after the flower it strikingly resembles, fools prey and predators alike. Its imitation of orchids is so convincing that insects are more attracted to it than the real deal.

Camouflage isn’t a strange concept; many animals and insects adopt clever disguises to avoid predators. But orchid mantises are unique. They stand out instead of blending in, beating orchids at their own game.

Most people find insects gross and disturbing. I must confess, I’m one of them. But I caught myself admiring pictures of orchid mantises. They are such beautiful creatures with their petal-shaped legs and rich pink, white and purple bodies. These features create a “tantalizing lure” for insects, says James O’Hanlon from Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia.


Photo: Lewallpaper

Scientists have believed in the orchid mantis’ aggressive mimicry tactics since the 1800s. According to evolutionary biologist O’Hanlon, “It was only ever just an idea – nobody had done the experiments to test whether it actually occurred.”

“Now, over a century later, we have textbooks and scientific articles stating that mantises mimic flowers as if it was an established fact,” he says. O’Hanlon felt it was his job to set the record straight, so he traveled to Malaysia with a group of scientists to study orchid mantises.


Photo: Francesco Tomasinelli

Conducting the study wasn’t easy – O’Hanlon and his team knew almost nothing about these creatures. The researchers first tested colors of the mantis under wavelengths of light visible to flying and pollinating insects. This confirmed that the colors were indeed indistinguishable from 13 species of wild flowers.

Next, the scientists watched how pollinators behaved around live orchid mantises. They witnessed over a dozen instances of unsuspecting insects getting close enough to the mantises to be snatched and gobbled up. This helped the research team conclude that the centuries-old theory is actually true.


Photo: Igor Siwanowicz

“We now know that not only is it possible for mantises to lure pollinators, but we know that they are amazingly good at it,” says O’Hanlon. “They can attract even more pollinators than some flowers.”

Researchers have confirmed that orchid mantises are the only species in the world that imitates flowers to attract prey. According to O’Hanlon, “There are other animals that are known to camouflage amongst flowers and ambush prey, but they do not actually attract the pollinators themselves.”


Photo: XTBG

In the next leg of research, O’Hanlon and his team plan to analyze how predators view orchid mantises. “It is entirely possible that mantises may avoid getting eaten if predators such as birds and lizards misclassify orchid mantises as a flower, rather than a food source,” he says.

Orchid mantises sound like lucky creatures, don’t they? Not only do they look great, all they have to do is laze around on a branch and their food comes flying right at them. What more could they want!


Source: Live Science

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