Nineteen new speedy praying mantis species discovered that hide and play dead to avoid capture

March 18, 2014, Pensoft Publishers
Liturgusa algorei, a new species of praying mantis discovered by Dr. Gavin Svenson of The Cleveland Museum of Natural History, is named for former United States Vice President Al Gore. This male specimen was captured in a dense rain forest along the Amazon River in northern Peru. Credit: Gavin Svenson, Cleveland Museum of Natural History

A scientist has discovered 19 new species of praying mantis from Central and South America. The new species of bark mantises were discovered in tropical forests and also found among existing museum collections. Dr. Gavin Svenson, curator of invertebrate zoology at The Cleveland Museum of Natural History, described the new species and published a revision of the genus Liturgusa in the open access journal ZooKeys.

Svenson collected the insects from eight countries in Central and South America, as well as gathered hundreds of specimens from 25 international museums in North America, South America and Europe. Many of the newly described species are known only from a few specimens collected before 1950 from locations that are now heavily impacted by agriculture or development.

"This group, the Neotropical bark mantises, are incredibly fast runners that live on the trunks and branches of trees," said Svenson of The Cleveland Museum of Natural History. "This violates the common perception of praying mantises being slow and methodical hunters."

Like most praying mantises, they are highly camouflage. However, this group is flattened in appearance and is very difficult to locate because of their adept mimicry of bark, moss and lichen. They often evade discovery by running to the opposite side of the tree before being noticed, an escape tactic also seen in many tree dwelling lizards.

"This is an amazing behavior for an insect because it shows that they are not only relying on camouflage like most insects but are constantly monitoring their environment and taking action to run and hide," said Svenson. "In addition, some species leap off the tree trunk to avoid capture and play dead after fluttering down to the forest floor since none of the species are strong fliers."

These are illustrations of the male and female of a new species, Liturgusa fossetti, discovered by Dr. Gavin Svenson of The Cleveland Museum of Natural History and named for the late Stephen Fossett for his dedication to exploration. Credit: Gavin Svenson, Cleveland Museum of Natural History Illustration by Joshua Maxwell

As highly visual predators, the bark mantis species appear to be active hunters that pursue prey as opposed to ambush hunters that wait for prey to come close. Also, like a similar bark mantis group from Australia (Ciulfina), this Neotropical group does not appear to exhibit cannibalism, which is an often misunderstood characteristic exhibited by some praying mantis species.

The research brings to light a previously unknown diversity of bark mantises. It indicates that there are many more species to discover.

"Based on this study, we can predict that mantis groups with similar habitat specialization in Africa, Asia and Australia will also be far more diverse than what is currently known," said Svenson. "Many of these groups have never been studied other than by the scientists that originally described some of the species, which in some cases is more than 100 years ago. This is exciting because enormous potential exists for advancing our understanding of praying mantis diversity just by looking within our existing museum collections and conducting a few field expeditions."

The discovery of these 19 triples the diversity of the group that scientists thought had only a few species with broad geographical ranges. The research indicates that most species are far more restricted in their locations within regions of Central and South America. This increased diversity and better measure of distribution has broad implications for conservation since many of the species were found in or near natural areas that may or may not be protected. The conservation status of some of the new mantises found in is not known since they have not been seen since originally collected in the early 1900s and could be highly threatened or even extinct.

Liturgusa krattorum, a new species of praying mantis discovered by Dr. Gavin Svenson of The Cleveland Museum of Natural History, is named for Martin and Chris Kratt of the television show Wild Kratts. This female specimen was captured in dense rain forest along the Amazon River in northern Peru. Credit: Gavin Svenson, Cleveland Museum of Natural History

Among the new , Liturgusa algorei, is named for Albert Arnold "Al" Gore Jr., former vice president of the United States of America, to honor his environmental activism and efforts to raise public awareness of global climate change. Liturgusa krattorum is named for Martin and Chris Kratt, hosts and creators of Kratts' Creatures and Wild Kratts, both of which provide children with entertaining and accurate programming on animal biology. Liturgusa fossetti is named in honor of the late James Stephen Fossett for his inspirational dedication to exploration. Liturgusa bororum is named for the Bora people, a group of people native to parts of the Amazon basin in northern Peru, Columbia and Brazil. Liturgusa tessae is named for Svenson's daughter, Tessa. Liturgusa zoae is named for Svenson's daughter, Zoey.

Svenson's research is focused on the evolutionary patterns of relationship, distribution and complex features of praying mantises. His current research project aims to align new sources of relationship evidence (DNA sequence data) with morphology and other features to create a new and accurate classification system for praying mantises that reflects true evolutionary relationships.

Explore further: Researchers find native male praying mantises falling prey to invading females

More information: Svenson GJ (2014) Revision of the Neotropical bark mantis genus Liturgusa Saussure, 1869 (Insecta, Mantodea, Liturgusini). ZooKeys 390: 1–214. DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.390.6661

Related Stories

Unearthed: A treasure trove of jewel-like beetles

October 15, 2013

The bottomless pit of insect biodiversity has yielded a treasure trove of new species of jewel-like clown beetles. In a paper published today in the journal ZooKeys, Michael Caterino and Alexey Tishechkin of the Santa Barbara ...

Recommended for you

Scale-eating fish adopt clever parasitic methods to survive

January 17, 2018

Think of them as extra-large parasites. A small group of fishes—possibly the world's cleverest carnivorous grazers—feeds on the scales of other fish in the tropics. The different species' approach differs: some ram their ...

How living systems compute solutions to problems

January 17, 2018

How do decisions get made in the natural world? One possibility is that the individuals or components in biological systems collectively compute solutions to challenges they face in their environments. Consider that fish ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.