Have you heard the one about the female praying mantis eating her male counterpart immediately after or even whilst they are copulating?
It’s largely a myth, and apparently it’s still doing the rounds (I noticed it posted under the titillating headline Still a Better Love Story Than Twilight as recently as yesterday on ScienceAlert).
The tale came from an centuries-old observation of mantises under stressful laboratory conditions. As Michael Doughty reports on the SerendipUpdate blog, the real story is that,
Although the praying mantis is known for its cannibalistic mating process, in actuality it only occurs 5-31% of the time.
And he quotes scientific observations and data to support his statement, taken from this paper:
“In nature, mating usually takes place under cover, so rather than leaning over the tank studying their every move, we left them alone and videotaped what happened. We were amazed at what we saw. Out of thirty matings, we didn’t record one instance of cannibalism, and instead we saw an elaborate courtship display, with both sexes performing a ritual dance, stroking each other with their antennae before finally mating. It really was a lovely display”.
For more busted myths about animal behaviour, see here.
[photo thanks to Alex Popovkin on flickr]