Post-attack defensive displays in three praying mantis species

  • James C. O’HanlonEmail author
  • Darshana N. Rathnayake
  • Katherine L. Barry
  • Kate D. L. Umbers
Original Article


Investigating the stimuli that elicit dynamic defensive displays can indicate when throughout the predation sequence prey are likely to perform them. This is crucial to understanding whether these displays function as classic deimatic ‘startle’ displays, facultative aposematism or aid in facilitation of predator learning. We investigated the triggers of defensive display in three different praying mantis species found in eastern Australia; Archimantis latistyla, Hierodula majuscula and Pseudomantis albofimbriata. Dynamic displays in praying mantises have been described as ‘deimatic’ and given the risks inherent in sustaining an attack, especially as mantises are not chemically defended, we predicted that mantises would perform their displays to stimuli that simulate early cues of predation. In a randomised order, we exposed each mantis to five different stimuli simulating a non-specific predator, including tactile and non-tactile stimuli. All species performed their display in response to tactile stimuli however A. latistyla and H. majuscula were more likely to respond than P. albofimbriata. The smallest species, P. albofimbriata, did not readily respond to simulated attacks and was the least likely to perform a display. Our results do not meet the prediction that mantises should respond to stimuli that correspond with early stages of the predation sequence. This raises questions surrounding the utilisation of defensive displays in non-chemically defended prey and contributes to our understanding of predator-prey dynamics during the predation sequence.

Significance statement

Startle displays, or deimatic displays, present some of the most charismatic and well-known examples of animal behaviour and colouration. Particularly in animals such as praying mantises, defensive displays are classically cited examples of anti-predator adaptations. It is generally stated that defensive displays in animals function by startling the predator before they have attacked; however, evidence is accumulating that dynamic displays may function in a number of ways including facilitating predator learning, or facultative aposematism. We found that three species of praying mantises only performed dynamic displays in response to simulated predator attacks. This contrasts with predictions that displays should happen before predator attacks, thus fundamentally challenging our understanding of why these strategies have evolved and how they are utilised in nature. This adds to growing evidence that apparent ‘deimatic displays’ may actually function in other ways such as facilitating predator learning, even in non-chemically defended animals such as praying mantises.


Predator-prey interactions Aposematism Deimatism Defence Anti-predator Mantodea 

Supplementary material

265_2018_2591_MOESM1_ESM.txt (13 kb)
ESM 1 (TXT 13 kb)


  1. Barry KL, White TE, Rathnayake DN, Fabricant SA, Herberstein ME (2015) Sexual signals for the colour blind: cryptic female mantids signal quality through brightness. Funct Ecol 29:531–539CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bateman AW, Vos M, Arnholt BR (2014) When to defend: antipredator defenses and the predation sequence. Am Nat 183:847–855CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Cable J, Nocke H (1975) Isolation of s-Butyl β-D-glucopyranoside from Acripeza reticulata. Aust J Chem 28:2737–2739CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Cott HB (1940) Adaptive coloration in animals. Methuen & Co. Ltd., LondonGoogle Scholar
  5. Crane J (1952) A comparative study of innate defensive behavior in Trinidad mantids (Orthoptera, Mantoidea). Zoologica 37:259–293Google Scholar
  6. Edmunds M (1972) Defensive behaviour in Ghanian praying mantids. Zool J Linnean Soc 51:1–32CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Edmunds M (1974) Defence in animals: a survey of antipredator defences. Longman, CaliforniaGoogle Scholar
  8. Edmunds M (1976) The defensive behaviour of Ghanian praying mantids with a discussion of territoriality. Zool J Linnean Soc 58:1–37CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Edmunds M, Brunner D (1999) Ethology of defenses against predators. In: Prete FR, Wells H, Wells PH, Hurd LE (eds) The praying mantids. John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, pp 276–299Google Scholar
  10. Endler JA (1991) Interactions between predators and prey. In: Krebs JR, Davies NB (eds) Behavioural ecology. Blackwell, Oxford, pp 169–196Google Scholar
  11. Heinze G, Ploner M (2016) logistf: Firth’s Bias-Reduced Logistic Regression. R package version 1.22Google Scholar
  12. Hossie TJ, Skelhorn J, Breinholt JW, Kawahara AY, Sherratt TN (2015) Body size affects the evolution of eyespots in caterpillars. Proc Natl Acad Sci 112:6664–6669CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Kang C, Lee S-I, Jablonski PG (2011) Effect of sex and bright coloration on survival and predator-induced wing damage in an aposematic lantern fly with startle display. Ecol Entomol 36:709–716CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Kang C, Cho H-J, Lee S-I, Jablonski PG (2016a) Post-attack aposematic display in prey facilitates predator avoidance learning. Front Ecol Evol 4:35CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Kang C, Moon H, Sherratt TN, et al (2016b) Multiple lines of anti-predator defence in the spotted lanternfly, Lycorma deliculata (Hemiptera: Fulgoridae). Biol J Linn Soc.
  16. Kang C, Zahiri R, Sherratt TN (2017) Body size affects the evolution of hidden colour signals in moths. Proc R Soc B 284:20171287CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Lima SL, Dill LM (1990) Behavioral decisions made under the risk of predation: a review and prospectus. Can J Zool 68:619–640CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Liske E, Köchy K, Wolff HG (1999) Ontogeny of defensive behaviors. In: Prete FR, Wells H, Wells PH, Hurd LE (eds) The praying mantids. John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, pp 3–18Google Scholar
  19. Maldonado H (1970) The deimatic reaction in the praying mantis Stagmatoptera biocellata. J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Physiol 68:60–71Google Scholar
  20. Mappes J, Marples N, Endler JA (2005) The complex business of survival by aposematism. Trends Ecol Evol 20:598–603CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Nyffeler M, Maxwell MR, Remsen JV Jr (2017) Bird predation by praying mantises: a global perspective. Wilson J Ornithol 129:331–334CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. O’Hanlon JC (2011) Intraspecific interactions and their influence on habitat utilisation in the praying mantid Ciulfina biseriata. J Ethol 29:47–54CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Prete FR, Wells H, Wells PH (1999) The predatory behavior of mantids: historical attitudes and contemporary questions. In: Prete FR, Wells H, Wells PH, Hurd LE (eds) The praying mantids. John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, pp 3–18Google Scholar
  24. R Development Core Team (2011) R: a language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, ViennaGoogle Scholar
  25. Remmel T, Tammaru T (2009) Size-dependent predation risk in tree-feeding insects with different colouration strategies: a field experiment. J Anim Ecol 78:973–980CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Ruxton GD, Sherratt TN, Speed MP (2004) Avoiding attack: the evolutionary ecology of crypsis, warning signals and mimicry. Oxford University Press, New YorkCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Sato K, Yamawaki Y (2014) Role of a looming-sensitive neuron in triggering the defense behavior of the praying mantis Tenodera aridifolia. J Neurophysiol 112:671–682CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Sivinski J (1981) The nature and possible functions of luminescence in Coleoptera larvae. Coleopt Bull 35:167–179Google Scholar
  29. Skelhorn J, Rowland HM, Speed MP, Ruxton GD (2010) Masquerade: camouflage without crypsis. Science 327:51CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Skelhorn J, Holmes GG, Rowe C (2016) Deimatic or aposematic? Anim Behav 113:e1–e3CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Speed MP, Ruxton GD (2005) Warning displays in spiny animals: one (more) evolutionary route to aposematism. Evolution 59:2499–2508CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Stevens M (2016) Cheats and deceits: how animals and plants exploit and mislead. Oxford, Oxford University PressGoogle Scholar
  33. Umbers KDL, Mappes J (2015) Postattack diematic display in the mountain katydid, Acripeza reticulata. Anim Behav 100:68–73CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Umbers KDL, Mappes J (2016) Towards a tractable working hypothesis for deimatic displays. Anim Behav 113:e5–e7CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Umbers KDL, De Bona S, White TE et al (2017) Deimatism: a neglected component of antipredator defence. Biol Lett 13:20160936CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  36. Watanabe H, Yano E (2010) Stage-specific defensive strategies of three mantid species Tenodera aridifolia, Heirodula patellifera, and Statilia maculata, against a natural enemy, Takydromus tachydromoides. Ann Entomol Soc Am 103:293–299CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Yamawaki Y (2011) Defence behaviours of the praying mantis Tenodera aridifolia in response to looming objects. J Insect Physiol 57:1510–1517CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Environmental and Rural SciencesUniversity of New EnglandArmidaleAustralia
  2. 2.Department of Biological SciencesMacquarie UniversityNorth RydeAustralia
  3. 3.School of Science and HealthWestern Sydney UniversityRichmondAustralia
  4. 4.Hawkesbury Institute for the EnvironmentWestern Sydney UniversityRichmondAustralia

Personalised recommendations