Birds feature more than any other topic in these pages. We have laid out bird-friendly territory over the years, and now Natalie Angier brings us a science news story that would be disturbing if not for our overall appreciation for the value of biodiversity.
The photo with the mantis on the feeder is part of a series in this story, and if you use your imagination after reading the title of the article, you can predict that the series does not end well for the bird, or bird-lovers. But as the photographer notes, new respect for the praying mantis is all but inevitable:
Scientists have developed a healthy respect for mantises, acrobatic hunters with 3-D vision and voracious appetites.
Tom Vaughan, a photographer then living in Colorado’s Mancos Valley, kept a hummingbird feeder outside his house. One morning, he stepped through the portico door and noticed a black-chinned hummingbird dangling from the side of the red plastic feeder like a stray Christmas ornament.
At first, Mr. Vaughan thought he knew what was going on. “I’d previously seen a hummingbird in a state of torpor,” he said, “when it was hanging straight down by its feet, regenerating its batteries, before dropping down and flying off.”
On closer inspection, Mr. Vaughan saw that the hummingbird was hanging not by its feet but by its head. And forget about jumping its batteries: the bird was in the grip of a three-inch-long green praying mantis.
The mantis was clinging with its back legs to the rim of the feeder, holding its feathered catch in its powerful, seemingly reverent front legs, and methodically chewing through the hummingbird’s skull to get at the nutritious brain tissue within.
“It was staring at me as it fed,” Mr. Vaughan said. “Of course, I took a picture of it.” Startled by the clicking shutter, the mantis dropped its partially decapitated meal, crawled under the feeder — and began menacing two hummingbirds on the other side.
“Talk about cognitive dissonance,” Mr. Vaughan said. “I always thought of mantises as wonderful things to have in your garden to get rid of bugs, but it turns out they sometimes go for larger prey, too.”
“It gave me new respect for mantises,” he added…
Read the whole story here.