Weird Nature Praying Mantises Are Going Full Metal Zombie And Eating Bird Brains  

Kate Jacobson
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Everyone knows praying mantises don't mess around. From ripping off their mates' heads to being worshipped as a symbol of knowledge, these little guys are one of the most amazing bugs around. And just when you think they can't get anymore metal than they already are, new research shows they're even crazier than you thought. And also a little disgusting.

Praying mantises around the world are preying on small birds – mostly hummingbirds – as a source of food. This is a huge deviation from their other meals of choice – insects and spiders – but researchers say they're now turning to birds. The worst part? Praying mantises are eating bird brains, attacking the bird from the head and slurping the insides out like some sort of gross milkshake. These praying mantis bird eaters are turning into zombies that have a hankerin' for brains. 

Praying Mantises Love To Eat Bird Brain Tissue – And Suck Out Their Brains While They're Still Alive

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Photo: Tom Vaughan/University of Basel

Typically, praying mantises enjoy a diet of insects and spiders. Scientists thought they liked to eat dead animals every once in a while, but a study released in 2017 showed these creatures are more than just habitual bird and mammal eaters. They will prey upon birds – usually smaller ones, like hummingbirds – because they have a taste for brain tissue. 

They actually pierce the skull of a bird to get inside and suck it out. And – wait until you read this description, oh my god – they "hold [their prey] and eat them while they're still alive, slowly and slowly until there is nothing left," according to ecologist Dietrich Mebs.


Mantises All Over The World Are Chowing Down On Bird Brains, And Scientists, Frankly, Are Surprised

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Photo: Randy Anderson/University of Basel

It wasn't a secret that praying mantises have been known to eat birds. People have observed this behavior periodically for many, many years. But scientists never compiled data regarding this behavior, and they believed it was an anomaly. But when scientists from several top research universities around the world looked at this issue en masse, they found praying mantises all over the world do this, and they do it a lot.

Mantises everywhere – except for Antarctica – hunt birds. It was once assumed only mantises in warmer climates engaged in such behavior, but, as it turns out, it doesn't really matter where they live. Researchers also found praying mantises will eat 24 different types of birds, mostly hummingbirds and passerines. Why? Researchers think it might have to do with requiring more energy during reproduction, a lack of other food sources, or just their vicious lust for brains. 

How Can Praying Mantises Overpower Birds?

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Photo: Jeffrey W./Flickr

The birds praying mantises are taking down are really lightweight birds – only weighing about six grams. But how can a bird that can be fly taken out by a relatively slow, non-flying praying mantis? The insects are very sneaky, and they manage to sneak up on birds as they're perched on branches. Using its hind legs, a mantis would latch onto the bird and strike the bird on the head, piercing its skull and revealing its brains.