Hummingbirds are some of the most popular birds that people attract to their yards using feeders. Their bright, flashy colors dazzle observers and attract attention from predators looking for an easy meal.
Hummingbirds are known to be predated by raptors, jays, shrikes, snakes, big spiders, and small mammals, but did you know that praying mantises also sometimes feed on hummingbirds?
Indeed, praying mantises capture, kill and eat hummingbirds. They have frequently been recorded feeding on hummingbirds in the United States.
Praying mantises typically catch hummingbirds at feeders. That is because many insects visit the feeders to drink nectar, and the praying mantises are attracted to them.
They sit and wait on or near the feeders – using their swift reactions to catch the insects and, in some cases, the glamorous hummingbirds, as they hover at the feeder.
What Is A Praying Mantis?
Praying mantises belong to the order Mantodea – an order of carnivorous insects found worldwide in tropical, subtropical, and temperate regions.
Praying mantises are unique with their thin bodies, long necks, and triangular heads. Their large front legs have sharp spines to hold onto prey, and their name is derived from how they hold their front legs, which look like they are preying.
Adults are typically green or brown, but they can change color to different shades accordingly to camouflage and blend in amongst vegetation.
Some species have unusual shapes that make them look just like flowers, branches, or leaves.
What Do Praying Mantises Eat?
Praying mantises mainly feed on small, soft-bodied insects, including bees, crickets, moths, butterflies, grasshoppers, and flies.
When their smaller insect prey isn’t abundant, they may feed on larger prey items like amphibians, mice, lizards, spiders, and other praying mantises. Small birds, like hummingbirds, are also occasionally captured.
Hummingbirds are usually only eaten when there is a shortage of their normal, preferred prey.
Praying mantises start feeding on their prey while it is still alive. If you see a praying mantis feeding, you will notice that they often eat the brain first and then move on to the other organs.
They only feed on the soft edible parts of their prey and get rid of the bones, feathers, and other inedible pieces.
Praying Mantis Hunting Technique
Praying mantises blend their body shape and color with plants and other vegetation. They place themselves in a strategic position as they sit silently in ambush.
They sometimes also move extremely slowly as they stalk their prey.
They wait for an unsuspecting animal to fly or sit too close, and they then lash out with their powerful front legs and grab the prey.
They have incredibly speedy reflexes and strike so quickly that we can’t even see it happening until it’s all over and the prey is grasped.
The spikes on the front legs secure the prey and prevent the animal from slipping out of its grip.
The combination of leg strength and spines make it nearly impossible for any animal, even hummingbirds, to get out of the praying mantis’s grasp. Usually, the only way for them to escape is through human intervention.
Praying Mantises Killing Hummingbirds
Praying mantises grow to five inches in length, making them some of the world’s largest insects. As you may have realized, they have a ferocious appetite as they eat so many different types of animals.
Hummingbirds are the smallest birds in the world, growing on average to a length of three to five inches. As you can see, hummingbirds are sometimes smaller than praying mantises.
With such a significant size, praying mantises can easily capture smaller hummingbirds and even those similar in size to themselves.
Praying mantises were introduced to the United States in the 1900s as a form of pest control. The introduced species from Eurasia are very large and are now well-established in the eastern United States.
The introduction of the large, non-native praying mantises has led to increased hummingbird predation. It is in the eastern part of the United States where the highest number of hummingbird attacks have been recorded.
Native praying mantises are also accountable for catching hummingbirds across the country, but more particularly in the western United States, where the introduced species are not well established.
The non-native praying mantises are larger, so they can catch hummingbirds more frequently. Generally, hummingbirds caught by praying mantises are always killed unless humans intervene.
The ruby-throated hummingbird is the most frequently captured species. It is the only hummingbird species that breeds in the eastern United States and is most susceptible to being eaten by the introduced praying mantises.
The high number of fatalities may also be due to the high abundance of hummingbirds and the more significant number of people who enjoy putting feeders out to attract hummingbirds in their yards.
You may think young, inexperienced hummingbirds are the ones usually caught, but adults also fall victim.
Hummingbird species that have been recorded as praying mantis prey are the following:
- Ruby-throated Hummingbird
- Allen’s Hummingbird
- Black-chinned Hummingbird
- Anna’s Hummingbird
- Broad-billed Hummingbird
- Broad-tailed Hummingbird
- Rufous Hummingbird
Preventing Praying Mantis Attacks
Praying mantises often feed in the same area if their prey is abundant. Your feeder may be the perfect place for a praying mantis to hunt from, so they may continually ambush prey at your feeder.
If that happens and you’re worried about the hummingbirds being captured, you can take a few preventative measures.
Use An Open Space
One of the best ways to decrease the chances of praying mantises getting to your feeder is to place the feeder out in the open. Doing so reduces the number of places the praying mantis and other predators can blend into and ambush from near the feeder.
You could also move the feeder to a different location in your yard or take it down temporarily.
Use A Bee Guard or Cover
Another option is to buy a feeder with bee guards that deter insects from getting to the nectar. This could reduce the number of insects that visit your feeder – providing less of a reason for a praying mantis to hang around.
You could also place a bird feeder cover over it to stop the praying mantises from sitting on top of the feeder and prevent them from getting too close to the hummingbirds.
Be Aware of Color
The color of the feeder you choose also makes a difference. Hummingbirds are attracted to many bright colors, including red, yellow, orange, purple, and pink. Their favorite color is bright red.
On the other hand, bees and some other insects are primarily attracted to yellow objects. Therefore, you can specifically buy a red feeder, which is ideal for hummingbirds and attracts fewer insects.
Move the Praying Mantis
As a last resort, you can gently pick up the praying mantis (or use a stick) and move it to a new area safely. The best place would be a natural area a reasonable distance from your house.
Praying mantises are still essential to the ecosystem and its functioning, so having them in your yard is beneficiary, and you shouldn’t harm them. They control insect populations and prevent them from taking over your yard.
If you have a pest control problem, think twice about introducing large, non-native praying mantises to your yard ecosystem.
Hummingbird Defense Techniques
Hummingbirds use a range of techniques to prevent themselves from being caught.
They are often difficult to see as they move so quickly, making it difficult for predators to track them. They are also incredibly agile, which makes it even more difficult for predators to catch them.
Their tail feathers are loosely attached to their bodies, so they can quickly be released when a predator grabs them by the tail, allowing them to fly away freely.
Praying mantises have a sly, menacing look, which fits their behavior. They are ferocious predators that feed on many insects and other animals, including hummingbirds.
Praying mantises do not often capture hummingbirds, but of all the bird species in the world, they are captured the most.
The ruby-throated hummingbird is the most frequently caught hummingbird species – possibly due to the introduction of large praying mantises in the eastern United States and people’s increased interest in putting bird feeders in their yards.
If a praying mantis frequently uses your feeder to hunt and endangers your hummingbirds, you can make a few adjustments to keep the hummingbirds safe.
To prevent praying mantises from catching your hummingbirds, placing the feeder in an open area where the praying mantises cannot hide away is a good idea.
You can also put up a bee guard to prevent bees and other insects from getting to your nectar, thus, providing the praying mantises with fewer feeding opportunities and less reason to be at the feeder.
Safely move the praying mantis to a different area if you have to.
Native praying mantises are good for your yard ecosystem, so you should try to keep them there without harming them and maintaining the hummingbirds’ safety.