Old Wives' Tales
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Claim: Female praying mantises always eat the heads of their mates.
Example: [Newsday, 1993]
Origins: For a long time it was believed that not only did the female praying mantis consume the head (and sometimes the rest) of her mate during copulation, but that this grisly act was a necessary part of the reproductive process. (The reasons given for this act of decapitation included its being a signal to the male to release his sperm, its providing the female with protein required for her to produce more eggs, and its being a way of keeping the male from leaving prematurely.) Even though the notion that the female always eats her mate has long since been disproved, the legend of the always-deadly female persists.
In a research project whose results were published in the journal Animal Behaviour in 1984, entomologists Eckehard Liske and
Yes, the female praying mantis does sometimes eat her mate. In fact, male mantises will often offer themselves up as food to the female during the mating process, and from a biological standpoint this action makes sense: There's no point to mating with a female who might die from a lack of food before she can lay her eggs and pass the father's genes onto the next generation. This doesn't happen all the time, however, and its frequency of occurrence and the reasons for it are still a subject a debate within the entomological world.
Last updated: 29 June 2007
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