CLOSE

Mantises Regularly Catch and Feast On Birds, NBD

The next time you feel like you’re too small to make a difference, think of the mantis. Scientists have discovered that many species of these badass little bugs habitually hunt, kill, and devour entire birds. A report on the mantises’ impressive skills was published in The Wilson Journal of Ornithology.

It’s not like we thought mantises were vegetarians. Their taste for flesh, including each other's, is common knowledge. But so was their basic diet, which consists of bugs and spiders. Once in a blue moon, someone might spot a mantis eating a tiny lizard or a small snake—you know, animals that live on the ground. But birds? Like, the kind with wings? No. How would that even work?

Apparently, the mantises are making it work. Researchers set out to collect and compare every single report they could find of a mantis eating a bird. They figured they’d find a few. Maybe one or two mantis species had figured it out.

One or two species had. As had another one or two. And another ten after that. All in all, the researchers discovered 147 accounts of bird-eating mantises from 12 different species. And this wasn’t some exotic local custom, either; the mantises were grabbing birds in 13 different countries, and on every continent except Antarctica (and that may only be because there are no mantises there).

The paper’s authors were floored by their own findings. "The fact that eating of birds is so widespread in praying mantises, both taxonomically as well as geographically speaking, is a spectacular discovery," lead author Martin Nyffeler of the University of Basel said in a statement.

Of course, we’re not talking about big birds here. Of the 24 bird species spotted in mantis mouths, many were hummingbirds. But hummingbirds are no joke, either. Males competing for territory and mates habitually stab each other in the chest. While hunting, they can snap their beaks shut in less than one hundredth of a second. They may be pretty, but they’re hardly helpless.

A male ruby-throated hummingbird at a red feeder.
"Come at me, bro."
Cephas, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Nyffeler and his colleagues note that the bugs’ bird eating is more than a party trick. Farmers and gardeners regularly release mantises into the wild, relying on the insects’ appetites for pest control. But you can’t tell a mantis what to do. It might not want to eat your bugs, especially if there are juicy birds nearby. And birds aren’t doing so great right now. We should probably give them a break.

Still thinking of unleashing your own mantis horde? The authors advise “great caution.”

Original image
Sylke Rohrlach, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0
arrow
Animals
Scientists Discover 'Octlantis,' a Bustling Octopus City
Original image
Sylke Rohrlach, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

Octopuses are insanely talented: They’ve been observed building forts, playing games, and even walking on dry land. But one area where the cephalopods come up short is in the social department. At least that’s what marine biologists used to believe. Now a newly discovered underwater community, dubbed Octlantis, is prompting scientists to call their characterization of octopuses as loners into question.

As Quartz reports, the so-called octopus city is located in Jervis Bay off Australia’s east coast. The patch of seafloor is populated by as many as 15 gloomy octopuses, a.k.a. common Sydney octopuses (octopus tetricus). Previous observations of the creatures led scientists to think they were strictly solitary, not counting their yearly mating rituals. But in Octlantis, octopuses communicate by changing colors, evict each other from dens, and live side by side. In addition to interacting with their neighbors, the gloomy octopuses have helped build the infrastructure of the city itself. On top of the rock formation they call home, they’ve stored mounds of clam and scallop shells and shaped them into shelters.

There is one other known gloomy octopus community similar to this one, and it may help scientists understand how and why they form. The original site, called Octopolis, was discovered in the same bay in 2009. Unlike Octlantis, Octopolis was centered around a manmade object that had sunk to the seabed and provided dens for up to 16 octopuses at a time. The researchers studying it had assumed it was a freak occurrence. But this new city, built around a natural habitat, shows that gloomy octopuses in the area may be evolving to be more social.

If that's the case, it's unclear why such octo-cities are so uncommon. "Relative to the more typical solitary life, the costs and benefits of living in aggregations and investing in interactions remain to be documented," the researchers who discovered the group wrote in a paper published in Marine and Freshwater Behavior and Physiology [PDF].

It’s also possible that for the first time in history humans have the resources to see octopus villages that perhaps have always been bustling beneath the sea surface.

[h/t Quartz]

Original image
iStock
arrow
This Just In
Criminal Gangs Are Smuggling Illegal Rhino Horns as Jewelry
Original image
iStock

Valuable jewelry isn't always made from precious metals or gems. Wildlife smugglers in Africa are increasingly evading the law by disguising illegally harvested rhinoceros horns as wearable baubles and trinkets, according to a new study conducted by wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC.

As BBC News reports, TRAFFIC analyzed 456 wildlife seizure records—recorded between 2010 and June 2017—to trace illegal rhino horn trade routes and identify smuggling methods. In a report, the organization noted that criminals have disguised rhino horns in the past using all kinds of creative methods, including covering the parts with aluminum foil, coating them in wax, or smearing them with toothpaste or shampoo to mask the scent of decay. But as recent seizures in South Africa suggest, Chinese trafficking networks within the nation are now concealing the coveted product by shaping horns into beads, disks, bangles, necklaces, and other objects, like bowls and cups. The protrusions are also ground into powder and stored in bags along with horn bits and shavings.

"It's very worrying," Julian Rademeyer, a project leader with TRAFFIC, told BBC News. "Because if someone's walking through the airport wearing a necklace made of rhino horn, who is going to stop them? Police are looking for a piece of horn and whole horns."

Rhino horn is a hot commodity in Asia. The keratin parts have traditionally been ground up and used to make medicines for illnesses like rheumatism or cancer, although there's no scientific evidence that these treatments work. And in recent years, horn objects have become status symbols among wealthy men in countries like Vietnam.

"A large number of people prefer the powder, but there are those who use it for lucky charms,” Melville Saayman, a professor at South Africa's North-West University who studies the rhino horn trade, told ABC News. “So they would like a piece of the horn."

According to TRAFFIC, at least 1249 rhino horns—together weighing more than five tons—were seized globally between 2010 and June 2017. The majority of these rhino horn shipments originated in southern Africa, with the greatest demand coming from Vietnam and China. The product is mostly smuggled by air, but routes change and shift depending on border controls and law enforcement resources.

Conservationists warn that this booming illegal trade has led to a precipitous decline in Africa's rhinoceros population: At least 7100 of the nation's rhinos have been killed over the past decade, according to one estimate, and only around 25,000 remain today. Meanwhile, Save the Rhino International, a UK-based conservation charity, told BBC News that if current poaching trends continue, rhinos could go extinct in the wild within the next 10 years.

[h/t BBC News]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios