Close banner

Support Outside Online

Love Outside?

Help fund our award-winning journalism with a contribution today.

Contribute to Outside

Orchid Mantis Lures Prey with Beauty

First known flower-like predator

An orchid mantis (Photo: Courtesy of James O'Hanlon)

With petal-like legs and attractive coloring, the orchid mantis uses its flower resemblance for hunting, researchers say, confirming years of speculation.

Native to the forests of Southeast Asia, the orchid mantis lures pollinators, such as butterflies and bees, to snatch them out of the air when they draw too near.

"They can attract even more pollinators than some flowers," James O'Hanlon, evolutionary biologist at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, told LiveScience.

The orchid mantis is not the first predator to use mimicry in predation. For example, a species of bolas spider attracts male moths by simulating female moth sex pheromones. But the mantis is the first insect observed to take an aggressive approach to the same camouflaging method as used by the predator-evading stick insect.

"There are other animals that are known to camouflage amongst flowers and ambush prey items, but they do not actually attract the pollinators themselves," says O'Hanlon, "the flowers they sit on are the attractive stimulus."

This research confirms years of speculation—since the 1800s, when Alfred Russel Wallace, who conceived of evolution independently of Darwin, first suggested the orchid mantis had adapted this way.

The researchers overcame the obstacle of access by traveling to Malaysia and consulting the Orang Asli tribe for help locating the insect.

"We knew almost nothing about them and had to start from complete scratch," says O'Hanlon, who mentions it is possible the orchid mantis also uses its disguise to avoid predatory birds and lizards.

Support Outside Online

Our mission to inspire readers to get outside has never been more critical. In recent years, Outside Online has reported on groundbreaking research linking time in nature to improved mental and physical health, and we’ve kept you informed about the unprecedented threats to America’s public lands. Our rigorous coverage helps spark important debates about wellness and travel and adventure, and it provides readers an accessible gateway to new outdoor passions. Time outside is essential—and we can help you make the most of it. Making a financial contribution to Outside Online only takes a few minutes and will ensure we can continue supplying the trailblazing, informative journalism that readers like you depend on. We hope you’ll support us. Thank you.

Contribute to Outside
Filed To: News
Lead Photo: Courtesy of James O'Hanlon