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Research finds praying mantids match their predatory strike to the speed of their prey

Research at the University of Sussex has found when capturing their prey, praying mantids match the duration of their deadly predatory strike to the speed of their prey.

Mantises, the order of insects which include the European praying mantid, were previously thought to deliver a ballistic attack with constant features, no matter what they were targeting, whether it be a butterfly, a cricket or a fly.

The insects are ‘sit and wait predators’, which observe their prey and strike at the right moment. Their strike has long been viewed as predictable and uniform.

However, new research by Mr Sergio Rossoni and Professor Jeremy Niven has shown that their behaviour is more complex than previously thought and they adapt their strike depending on how speedy their prey is, maximising the chances of a successful kill.

Mr Rossoni, currently a visiting PhD student at Sussex, completed the research with Professor Niven as part of his MRes Neuroscience course and it is now published in Biology Letters.

He said: “It is currently unknown as to how praying mantids transform visual cues about prey speed into a precisely timed attack, but we believe they use some kind of internal model to match the two. Our results will now allow further research into this area.”

The researchers found that the deadly strike of praying mantids can be broken down into two halves and it is the initial first half that they adapt; using visual information to change the speed of the strike, and incorporate pauses.

It is hoped the results of this research will allow further studies into how the brain transforms visual information into behaviour and could even one day inspire the development of autonomous systems. A good example could be the programming of self-driving cars, enabling software that reacts quickly and precisely to what happens in the real world, such as avoiding obstacles and tracking targets.

Prey speed influences the speed and structure of the raptorial strike of a ‘sit-and-wait’ predator is published in Biology Letters.


By: Jessica Gowers
Last updated: Thursday, 21 May 2020

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