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article imageThis new praying mantis is a 'preying' mantis

By Karen Graham     May 21, 2014 in Science
The praying mantis gets its name from the way its large front legs are bent, making the insect look like it is praying. The larger group to which the mantis belongs is called "praying mantids." Regardless of what we call them, they are formidable hunters.
While the praying mantis is a carnivore that usually waits patiently and only sometimes stalks its prey, scientists have recently discovered a new species of mantis in a mountainous forest region of Rwanda. The wingless female of this new species is said to be a "vicious hunter."
The new mantis was discovered by scientists conducting a survey of insects in Nyungwe National Park, home to the oldest block of high altitude rain-forest in East and Central Africa. The forest dates back to before the last ice age, and the diversity of animal, bird and insect life is astounding.
Dystacta tigrifrutex  female.
Dystacta tigrifrutex, female.
Tedrow R et al.
The new insect was named the Bush tiger mantis (Dystacta tigrifrutex) because the hunting practices of the females was so like those of the world's big cats. Riley Tedrow, a Case Western Reserve University biology student who led the research said, "The new species is amazing, because the fairly small female prowls through the underbrush searching for prey. The male flies and appears to live higher in the vegetation."
The researchers were able to trap both a male and female of the species, and to their good fortune, the female soon laid an egg case, called an ootheca. The scientists were able to study and observe the nymphs and adults in one three-week field session. This is apparently a rarity in insect science.
The research team took meticulous measurements of the new insects, including color and size at various stages of development, and compared them to known species in museums and described in scientific papers. They concluded the species belongs to the genus Dystacta, of which there is only one species, Dystacta alticeps. Sadly, one feature that would have helped in an identification was found to be missing. Ants had gobbled up the male insect's genitalia while he dried up in the harsh Rwandan heat.
Dystacta tigrifrutex  male.
Dystacta tigrifrutex, male.
Tedrow R et al.
“Dystacta alticeps, the sister species, is spread all over Africa. The new praying mantis species was found in the high altitude rain forest region of southwestern Rwanda and probably only lives within Nyungwe National Park, which adds significant justification for protecting the park to ensure species like this can continue to exist,” said team leader Dr Gavin Svenson from the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and Case Western Reserve University.
The findings of the research team, including descriptions were published online in the open-access journal ZooKeys.
More about praying mantis, Rwanda, New species, wingless females, bush tiger mantis
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