Not just a pretty insect

041216 orchidmantis 1
Credit: Rick Wherley

Female orchid mantis adults mimic the appearance of flowers due to their ancestors’ association with flowers to capitalise on an easy source of food, pollinating insects.

Research published in the online journal Scientific Reports studied the evolutionary relationships of the orchid mantis and its distant relatives, finding that females in the orchid mantis lineage increased in size and gained conspicuous coloration over their evolutionary history in order to attract and prey on large pollinating insects such as bees.

Strikingly, the research also shows that males in the orchid mantis lineage evolved a completely different adult strategy: staying small and camouflaged in order to avoid predators while searching for mates.

In insects, this morphological difference between males and females – known throughout biology as sexual dimorphism – is usually attributed to the need for females to be larger to maximise egg production.

In this case, females evolved to be larger and more colourful to better attract and overpower prey, thus challenging the notion that most sexual dimorphism is caused by reproductive strategy.

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