Curator Discovers 19 New Praying Mantis Species
Dr. Gavin Svenson, curator of invertebrate zoology, has discovered 19 new species of praying mantis. The new species of bark mantises were discovered in tropical forests and also found among existing museum collections.
Svenson collected the insects from eight countries in Central and South America, as well as gathered hundreds of specimens from 25 international museums in North America, South America and Europe. Many of the newly described species are known only from a few specimens collected before 1950 from locations that are now heavily impacted by agriculture or development.
“This group, the Neotropical bark mantises, are incredibly fast runners that live on the trunks and branches of trees,” said Svenson. “This violates the common perception of praying mantises being slow and methodical hunters.”
Like most praying mantises, they are highly camouflaged. However, this group is flattened in appearance and is very difficult to locate because of their adept mimicry of bark, moss and lichen. They often evade discovery by running to the opposite side of the tree before being noticed, an escape tactic also seen in many tree dwelling lizards.
“This is an amazing behavior for an insect because it shows that they are not only relying on camouflage like most insects but are constantly monitoring their environment and taking action to run and hide,” said Svenson. “In addition, some species leap off the tree trunk to avoid capture and play dead after fluttering down to the forest floor since none of the species are strong fliers.”
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Video: Dr. Svenson discusses his research