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The precise jump of a praying mantis

Stagmomantis mantis: bodily strategy for locomotion

KALDARI/WIKIPEDIAStagmomantis mantis: bodily strategy for locomotionKALDARI/WIKIPEDIA

Immature forms of praying mantises, which have no wings, have a very special technique that they use for making accurate jumps.  Before launching themselves into the air, they shake their heads from side to side, lean their bodies backward and arch their abdomens upward, even pointing them forward.  While they are in the air, their outstretched back legs are twisted upward while the abdomen is pulled down.  A group of British researchers led by Malcolm Burrows at the University of Cambridge analyzed the jumps of six young specimens of Stagmomantis theophila – each of them jumped three times as part of the test – and showed that these maneuvers are essential to ensure precision when landing on a vertical pole (Current Biology, March 16, 2015).  The researchers analyzed a video recorded with a high-speed camera, replicated the movements using a computer model, and showed that mantises use these precise twisting motions of the abdomen, front legs, and hind legs to control their jumps, giving them the ability to make an elegant landing.  When the insects’ abdomens were experimentally hardened with glue to prevent arching, their jumps lost precision: the mantises aimed badly, had difficulty grabbing the target, or even hit their heads on it before landing.