Lesson of the Day: ‘Praying Mantises: More Deadly Than We Knew’

Lesson of the Day: ‘Praying Mantises: More Deadly Than We Knew’

Find all our Lessons of the Day here.

Featured Article: “Praying Mantises: More Deadly Than We Knew” by Cara Giaimo

Praying mantises have long been viewed as “sit-and-wait predators”; they observe their prey and do not strike until the moment is right. As a result, this kind of predator is often thought of as being robotic and predictable in its behaviors. However, new research has challenged that belief, complicating how we understand insects’ capabilities.

In this lesson, you will learn about the research and findings from a new praying mantis experiment conducted at the University of Sussex. Then, you will observe an insect, compare the movement of a praying mantis to a cheetah, or read a full scientific research article.

Watch these two videos showing a praying mantis capturing its prey. The first video is at full speed:

Now, watch the video, recorded at one-tenth of actual speed:

  • With the recording slowed down, what more are you able to notice about how the praying mantis traps its prey?

  • What do you wonder about how praying mantises hunt and capture their prey?

Read the article, then answer the following questions:

1. What are the two categories of predatory animals? What makes them different from each other?

2. How did research conducted in 2016 about praying mantises challenge previous beliefs about how they strike their prey?

3. What question guided the experiment conducted by Sergio Rossoni, a zoology doctoral student?

4. How did Mr. Rossoni conduct his experiment? What were the methods and techniques he used?

5. What were the findings of Mr. Rossoni’s experiment? What are the larger implications of Mr. Rossini’s research?

Make a list of the insects you see inside and outside of your home. What have you observed those insects doing? Maybe you have seen an ant carrying a crumb or a ladybug crawling on a piece of fresh fruit.

Spend some time observing one insect with a focus on its movement:

  • What are the tempo, rhythm and pace of the insect’s movements?

  • What part of its body does it lead with?

  • What happens when it becomes aware of your presence?

Then, conduct additional research — National Geographic is a good place to start — about the insect you were watching. Here are some questions to guide your research: Is the insect typically a predator or prey? What does it eat? How does it see or navigate the space around it?

The featured article mentions the movement of cheetahs, which are categorized as pursuit predators. Watch this one-minute video, from a 2013 Times article, that documents how cheetahs hunt their prey:

To guide your reading, use this advice adapted from Science News for Students:

1. Take your time.

You may need several hours, or even a whole day, to work your way through the research article. You should reread the featured article and use what you learned to support your reading.

3. As you read the research article, rewrite each section using your own words.

In addition to writing, you can take notes or draw diagrams. You can challenge yourself to make the content of the article accessible for a fifth grader, or write sentences that explain the concepts in 280 characters or less, like a tweet.

4. After you are done reading the article, answer the following questions:

  • What methods did the scientists use to answer their question?

  • What techniques did they use to identify something new?

  • What answers did the scientists come up with? Why do they think their answers are important?

  • What are the limitations of the findings? What more do you want to know?