If you’ve ever seen a praying mantis hunting an insect much larger than itself, you may have thought it had to be pretty smart to take down such a foe. But is that true? How smart are praying mantises? Are they the smartest insects in the world, or are there some insects that are much smarter than they are? Keep reading as we dive into the answers to these questions.
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How Smart are Praying Mantises?
The smartness of most insects is unclear and hard to measure. While many insects display behaviors that suggest intelligence, it’s not always easy to determine whether these behaviors are based on instinct or on thoughtful decision making.
In the case of praying mantises, many of their behaviors are considered instinctual–for example, they will hunt any insect they can catch and subdue, including members of their own species. The instinctive need for food is what drives this behavior.
But some of their behaviors appear to be more calculated. Some have demonstrated a tendency to return to the same hunting areas where they had success in the past.
In these cases, the instinct to find food may be coupled with thinking and decision-making skills that help them determine where to look for food.
Male praying mantises have also shown an ability to make decisions when choosing a mate. Many males seem to have a preference for fatter, more well fed females, and they typically approach stealthily from behind when mating; both actions can limit their chances of being eaten by the female during copulation.
What’s more, praying mantises have excellent vision; they appear to recognize familiar objects and possibly even faces they’ve seen before. They seem to be able to distinguish between friendly, familiar people and unfamiliar people or predators.
This ability suggests that praying mantises can be taught through use of visual clues.
Check out this video of a guy and a praying mantis who became inseparable friends.
Are Praying Mantises the Smartest Insects?
Considering all the different kinds of insects in the world, and the difficulty in determining their levels of intelligence, it’s impossible to say which insect is the smartest of all.
That said, some insects have a reputation for being smart. While the praying mantis would certainly make the list, it wouldn’t be at the top of the list.
The brains of praying mantises contain only around a million neurons–by comparison, humans have around 100 billion. With this in mind, it’s safe to say that the intelligence of praying mantises is nowhere close to that of humans, nor does it come close to many other insects.
So, it’s possible that the behaviors we would consider “smart” may simply be based on instincts or natural physical processes rather than on thoughtful actions and decisions. It’s possible that everything praying mantises do simply comes naturally to them and doesn’t require any thought.
Even if that’s the case, it’s still pretty impressive. If praying mantises are able to recognize faces, remember good hunting grounds, and avoid aggressive mates, they are certainly able to do a lot with their instincts.
What Insects are Smarter than Praying Mantises?
Though praying mantises are apex predators among insects, we’ve determined that they probably aren’t the smartest. So, you may be wondering: what are some insects that are smarter than praying mantises?
Let’s take a look.
- Bees: Honeybees communicate to other members of the hive to let them know about good sources of pollen and nectar, and they put a lot of forethought into planning their route to and from the flowers. They work together as a team to maintain the hive and keep each other safe.
- Ants: Ants also live together in large colonies, which takes a certain amount of intelligence and skill. Beyond that, though, they also know how to hoard food for the winter, and some types of ants even farm their own food by growing fungus on leaves and other plant parts they collect.
- Termites: Termites exhibited intelligence long before other insects. They were one of the first insects to farm fungus and live together in social colonies, and their ability to take care of each other and look out for the colony continues even to this day.
- Butterflies: Some species of butterfly remember the best nectar sources and return to these flowers again and again, using the same route unless they are threatened by a predator. They are able to communicate with each other and even with other insects with whom they have a symbiotic relationship.
- Cockroaches: Cockroaches strategically plan to have multiple exit routes from any location. This planning requires an ability to think ahead that rivals most insects and possibly even humans.
Praying mantises do appear to recognize objects and faces, remember prime hunting spots, and choose mates based on survival, but it’s unclear whether these actions are based on thinking skills or if they are more instinctive. There are many insects considered to be smarter than praying mantises, including bees, ants, and cockroaches.