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The Mantis That Disguises Itself as an Orchid

Many of us are not fans of insects, but you have to admit that the orchid mantis is truly breathtaking!

One of nature's most spectacular beings is also one of the most vicious. The orchid mantis (Hymenopus coronatus) is a mantis species in the rain forests of Southeast Asia that is characterized by brilliant coloring and a structure uniquely mirroring the shape of the orchid plant. The mantis, however, does not always look this beautiful and regal, but rather camouflages into its stunning shape when it wants to catch its prey.

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When the orchid mantis is not blending into a nearby flower to catch its prey, the mantis has a yellow and black colors, making it look like a number of other insects in the jungle. However, once the mantis spots an insect that it would like to make its prey, it immediately begins to blend into the pink flower, spanning petal-shaped legs and rich pink, white and purple bodies.

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The orchid mantis is a newly discovered species. In the 1800s, scientists believed that the mantis had the ability to camouflage itself, but it was never proven. Now, over a century later, there is definitive proof that the mantis mimics flowers in order to catch its prey.

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Recently, a team of Australian researchers from the University of Sydney traveled to Malaysia and Indonesia to observe the orchid mantis in action. The found that conducting the study would not be easy because there was no scientific information regarding the insects. The researchers identified the mantises under wavelengths of visible light and confirmed that their colors were indistinguishable from the 13 species of wild flowers they camouflaged into.

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Then the researchers began to observe how the mantis hunts. They watched as over a dozen pollinators approach what they thought was an innocent plant, only to suddenly be snatched and quickly gobbled up.

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"We now know that not only is it possible for mantises to lure pollinators, but we know that they are amazingly good at it," said James O'Hanlon. He believes that the mantises may be even better at attracting the pollinators than most flowers. There are many insects and animals that disguise themselves to ambush their prey, but rarely do any of them attract the prey itself; it's usually subject to chance.

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Get to know the beauty and terror of this mystical creature a little better - a true reminder that nature has infinite things in store!


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