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Are praying mantises carnivorous insects? Yes, there is no doubt. But our unprecedented record reveals, for the first time in the world, a praying mantis feeding on plant substance in the wild! A wild individual of Stagmatoptera precaria was photographed consuming papaya latex, arousing many questions and reminding us that we know little about mantis behavior in their natural habitat.

Published by Entomological Communications, this scientific note opens a new page in mantis research: their use and need for complementary food sources in nature. To top it off, papaya latex is considered toxic. Investigating how a mantis is able to process it can lead to important discoveries for biomimetics, an area that studies natural phenomena and structures for application to our society.


"First record of non-carnivore feeding behavior in a wild praying mantis (Mantodea: Mantidae)"

Stagmatoptera Precaria feeding on Papaya
Stagmatoptera Precaria feeding on Papaya


It was 2016. Projeto Mantis had just been founded and we were on our seventh field trip to Valença, a municipality in the interior of Rio de Janeiro. Over the weekend, seven adults of the Stagmatoptera precaria species appeared in our light trap. We always follow the protocol of rearing all mantises collected to natural death and avoid overcollecing. So we decided to release three of them. It was this protocol, unusual in the study of insects, that allowed the discovery.

In the morning, our team left for the release. For each released mantis, we took photos for our portfolio until it flew. The last individual was released on a papaya tree, which led to the never before recorded behavior. Volunteering on the trip, our friend Julia Moragas decided to pick up a papaya to eat later, causing the plant to release its characteristic latex. Immediately the praying mantis began to climb the trunk and stopped in front of the source of the viscous white substance, crouching down. The insect began to feed incessantly, assuming the characteristic pose of when it feeds on honey in captivity.



Natural history research works with the description of phenomena observed in nature and has developed a lot since the first naturalist expeditions in Brazil, but it declined in the face of more complex research involving experiments and hypothesis testing. Nowadays, publishing a purely descriptive account of specific behavior, even if novel, is very difficult. Scientific journals have little space for this type of observation, which does not make it any less important. Records like this are crucial to the development of further studies in ecology and evolution. They are the ones which generate new hypotheses.


The fact that a praying mantis in the wild ingests latex raises several questions that could be answered in future studies and experiments by other researchers. We know very little about our fauna, and even less about its natural history. We hope that this record will awaken in many people an accurate and curious look at the complexity of interactions and possibilities in environments as rich and threatened as the Atlantic Rainforest and the Amazon.

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