If you’ve ever seen a praying mantis perched on your hummingbird feeder, you may have thought it wasn’t any cause for concern. That is, until you saw the mantis with a hummingbird clutched in its forelegs. Such a sight as this probably shocked you. Do praying mantises kill hummingbirds? Do they actually eat them? How do these insect predators hunt these little birds which are often larger than themselves? And what can you do to keep mantises away from your feeders? Keep reading as we answer all of these questions!
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Will a Praying Mantis Actually Eat a Hummingbird?
Surprising as it may seem, praying mantises do occasionally eat hummingbirds. Though it is something of an exception to the rule, it happens often enough that home gardeners and backyard bird watchers will go to great lengths to keep mantises away from their hummingbird feeders.
In general, praying mantises are capable of hunting, catching, and eating prey that’s larger than themselves. Even so, there are around 2,000 species of praying mantis, and only the largest ones are capable of taking down hummingbirds.
When a praying mantis does catch a hummingbird, it is incapable of eating the whole thing. Instead, it will eat the brain matter, blood, and internal organs, allowing the feathers, bones, and muscles to fall to the ground.
Because they are a challenge to catch and eat, mantises typically will only resort to eating hummingbirds if other foods are in short supply and they haven’t eaten in a long time.
According to Dr. Joshua Martin, as quoted by Audubon:
“As a mantis gets hungry, as the time from its last meal gets longer, [its] ‘idea’ of what constitutes prey gets broader and broader, and [it will] strike at larger targets.”
In other words, praying mantises really only eat hummingbirds when they’re desperate for a meal.
That said, if a particular praying mantis has had hunting success at a particular hummingbird feeder, it may return again and again. Praying mantises are smart creatures, and if they find a reliable hunting spot, they’re probably going to keep coming back to it–even if it means hunting hummingbirds repeatedly.
But if you have a praying mantis stalking your hummingbird feeder, it may not be intentionally hunting hummingbirds. Plenty of insects, especially bees and wasps, are also attracted to the sugary water contained within these feeders; and if given the choice, most praying mantises will go for the insects rather than the hummingbirds.
So yes, some praying mantises will eat hummingbirds if they can’t get any other types of food, and they may repeatedly go back to the same feeders where they’ve hunted successfully in the past. But in most cases, mantises prefer to eat smaller types of food.
How Do Praying Mantises Hunt Hummingbirds?
Praying mantises are known as ambush predators. This means that they will sit perfectly still, sometimes for hours on end, waiting for prey to pass by; then, they will lash out and snatch the prey in their powerful front legs.
Praying mantises hunt hummingbirds in the same way.
They will climb onto the cover or one of the perches on a hummingbird feeder, or they will hide in waiting underneath nectar flowers frequented by hummingbirds. They will wait, assuming their “praying-hands” hunting pose, until a potential meal comes by.
Praying mantises have excellent vision which they use to analyze the speed and size of any possible target. Hungrier mantises are more likely to target larger prey, so any mantis that attacks a hummingbird would have to be nearly starving before it would do so.
Hummingbirds know instinctively to watch out for praying mantises, but there are times they simply don’t see them or drift too close by accident. When the hummingbird is within reach, the mantis will spring forward, grabbing the bird in its front legs while attempting to brace itself with its four back legs.
Mantises tend to eat the head first. Their strong jaws puncture the bird’s fragile skull, allowing it to get at the soft and nutritious brain matter inside.
Praying mantises eat all their prey alive, though the prey gradually dies as it is eaten. Targeting the head first tends to subdue and kill most prey animals quickly.
Check out this video to see just how quickly a praying mantis can strike and catch a hummingbird.
How to Keep Praying Mantises from Eating Hummingbirds?
If you have a flower garden or hummingbird feeders, chances are you don’t want praying mantises attacking your hummingbirds. What can you do to keep them away?
- Avoid insecticides: Though spraying insecticides may seem like a great way to eliminate praying mantises and pest insects, you will also eliminate many of their most dependable food sources and beneficial insects. You may or may not get rid of all the praying mantises in your yard, and any that remain will face food shortages and become increasingly desperate for a meal because there won’t be as many insects for them to eat.
- Move your feeder: If you have hummingbird feeders, move them away from plants, shrubbery, or other structures which mantises might use to climb onto the feeder. Though many species of praying mantis can fly, they will be less likely to visit your hummingbird feeders if you make them more difficult to get to.
- Paint it red: Hang your feeders in the middle of the yard from poles that you paint red. Not only will the color red attract hummingbirds, but it will also make it difficult for praying mantises to camouflage, which in turn will allow hummingbirds to see them better.
- Grease the hanging pole: Applying some sort of grease, such as petroleum jelly, to the pole will prevent praying mantises and other insects from climbing up to the feeder.
- Relocate offending mantises: If you spot a praying mantis sitting on your feeder, use a net or container to capture and relocate it. Moving it to a location at least a mile away should prevent it from returning to your yard and hummingbird feeders.
The largest species of praying mantis sometimes hunt and eat hummingbirds if they are struggling to find other food sources. To keep them from targeting your hummingbird feeders, take steps to make the feeders more difficult for mantises to access, and move the mantises to a new location if necessary.