The frantic fluttering of this skipper caught my eye at one of the Argentinian field sites. The mantis that had snatched the little butterfly had only got hold of one wing, and couldn’t quite seem to manage to get her lunch under control. After a valiant struggle, and some munching on the wing, she eventually lost her hold, leaving the mantis hungry, and the skipper crippled on the ground below. Being a bug is not much fun.
Quite a number of insects have independently evolved raptorial forelegs for capturing their prey, but mantids (order Mantodea) are by far the most well known for this feature. Raptorial means ‘grasping’ or ‘adapted for seizing prey’ — think of the talons of birds of prey (raptors) or those of the cunning velociraptors from Jurassic Park. The opposable spines on the mantid’s front tibia and femur fulfill a similar purpose, and their long reach and speed make them dangerous predators in the insect world. Mantises have even been known to lurk on hummingbird feeders and pick off the unwary bird.