Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

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Sandy Lizotte, the Ventura Hummingbird Lady, captures a rare and remarkable moment where a praying mantis was waiting patiently at a hummingbird feeder to ambush a hummingbird. As you’ll see in this video, the mantid succeeds.

The hummingbird did survive.


  1. #1 Phillip IV
    March 8, 2010

    So prayer does work!

    Seriously, though, the thing that intrigues me is at 0:18 into the clip, when one of the hummingbirds stomps on the mantis. I wonder whether that was on purpose – was the hummingbird suspicious at first, and then lulled into a false sense of security by the mantis not moving after being stomped on (keeping up the disguise as a dry twig), or was it just accidental?

  2. #2 Vasha
    March 8, 2010

    Not that rare of an event, actually… It still surprises me that so many mantises have learned the trick of waiting at hummingbird feeders. Shouldn’t undersetimate them.

  3. #3 "GrrlScientist"
    March 8, 2010

    phillip: i can’t even begin to speculate as to the purpose of the hummingbird “stomping” .. i did find it interesting that several of them were closely studying the mantid.

    vasha: true, but most people don’t watch hummingbird feeders (or “big bugs”) very closely, so this event is rare in their eyes.

  4. #4 Julie Stahlhut
    March 8, 2010

    The first account I ever read of a mantis attack on a hummingbird was in National Geographic around thirty years ago. From the writer’s description, it seemed like the mantis was primarily hunting insects that were also attracted to the sweet liquid in the hummingbird feeder.

  5. #5 DCBob
    March 8, 2010

    I once came upon a praying mantis locked in a death struggle with a large wasp – I’m guessing it was a cicada killer. I watched them for about 10 minutes or so until the wasp broke the mantis’ neck with its mandibles and flew off. As the mantis was dying, the wasp came back and flew into it again two or three times as though to say “Yeah! Try that again, you *#%*&!” and then finally flew away. Quite an amazing sight.

  6. #6 darwinsdog
    March 8, 2010

    My son used to have two iguanas, a male & female, who liked to bask in the sun on the living room windowsill. Many times, far too many times for it to have just been coincidental, I’ve seen black-chinned hummingbirds hovering just outside the glass, right in front of those iguanas. It’s as if they’re familiar with iguanas from their winter range & are wondering what in the heck these two lizards are doing up north in their summer nesting range.

    Hummingbirds have huge brains relative to their body size & it doesn’t surprise me that they experience cognitive dissonance over the presence of iguanas in their summer range, nor that they should recognize the danger mantids represent and therefore ‘stomp’ them when they get the chance. Dismiss these speculations as anthropomorphisms if you will.

  7. #7 Doyle
    March 8, 2010

    I have developed a wearable hummingbird feeder. I keep it on a shelf down at the barn. When I “use” it, I place a chair next to the shelf and don the feeder. When a hummingbird arrives, it comes around the corner of the barn and stops dead, hovering, right where the feeder WAS . . . and then adjusts to where it NOW IS to sip from the feeding tube. What amazes me is their spatial “consciousness” — they know exactly where the feeder is supposed to be when they come whizzing in from around the corner and act a bit surprised? irritated? that the feeder has somehow “moved”. here is a 2 min youtube movie of the feeder

  8. #8 Anon
    March 8, 2010

    If I am not mistaken (this memory would be over 30 years old), there is an account of such an encounter in the excellent book “Watchers at the pond”, which should be on every nature lover’s bookshelf. Ok, it’s not on mine, but it once was.

  9. #9 David Hilmy
    March 9, 2010

    a rather more successful attempt by a mantis on a hummer

    not to be outdone, a Golden Orb Spider gets this Chestnut-breasted Mannikin

  10. #10 Kattato Garu
    March 9, 2010

    I’m pretty sure a Mantis could not hope to eat a hummingbird 5 times its own weight – throughout the clip it’s standing in a classic Mantis defensive pose and when the hummer get too near, it strikes to say: go away!!
    Nevertheless, the pic from David Hilmy is amazing and I am a bit suspicious that wasn’t posed. I would like to know what happened next….

  11. #11 Kattato Garu
    March 9, 2010

    Although if you wait until the end, there are some other vids here which show mantises eating birds. Ouch. But size wise the successful insects were much more evenly matched. Even so – hard little insects!!

  12. #12 David Hilmy
    March 9, 2010

    Kattato, when I get home from work this evening I can post some of the other photos of the mantis/hummer set

  13. #13 David Hilmy
    March 9, 2010

    Hey Kattato,

    This is another shot of the same mantis starting to devour the hummingbird

    but then there are quite a few instances caught on camera, like this one, or this one or even this one and then there’s this one!

  14. #14 Kattato Garu
    March 10, 2010

    Thanks David. I stand corrected: clearly mantises can and do eat birds of their own size… I confess I am amazed – I had assumed that the bird’s more efficient energy metabolism would mean that it would out-muscle the insect or at least exhaust it. What a horrible way to go, though: nibbled to death. I have new respect for the Mantis: a most fearsome beast!
    An aside – why is it that watching an arthropod eat a vertebrate seems so wrong? I mean, for me there is something instinctively disgusting about it, whereas I don’t feel disgusted by (say) a snake eating a bird or a lion eating a zebra; or for that matter, about a mantis eating a roach or a fly. When I was a kid I once fed a baby frog to my pet tarantula – when I think about it I still feel guilt and horror…

  15. #15 David hilmy
    March 10, 2010

    I think a worse thought is an insect big and voracious enough to trap and then eat a fellow mammal!

    photos and videops of an Amazon Giant Centipede (Scolopendra gigantea) catching and eating a mouse, and also trapping and eating a bat!

  16. #16 Ashley
    April 4, 2010

    I’m not sure if I would call that succeeding. The hummingbird flies off and takes the mantis for a ride. Is that a Perky Pet Top Fill feeder? I’ve read that these feeders are really effective at attracting hummingbirds. That’s probably why there were so many hummingbirds in the video.
    Here’s an example of one:

  17. #17 Ashley
    April 4, 2010

    I’m not sure if I would call that succeeding. The hummingbird flies off and takes the mantis for a ride. Is that a Perky Pet Top Fill feeder? I’ve read that these feeders are really effective at attracting hummingbirds. That’s probably why there were so many hummingbirds in the video.
    Here’s an example of one:

  18. #18 Mary
    April 13, 2010

    Ashley posted an ad for Perky Pet this week in my blog, too.

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