THE ORCHID MANTIS
When it comes plant mimicry, the Orchid Mantis - Hymenopus coronatus is undeniably one of the very best. It is a native to the rain forests of south-east Asia (including Malaysia and Indonesia), and is just one of several species known as flower mantises, so called because of their resemblance and behaviour to the local flora.
Most orchid mantises are white, but there is a pink to purplish colour morph that is very popular with collectors.
They are also characterized by an exoskeleton that has been highly adapted for camouflage. This combination is used to great effect, mimicking parts of the orchid flower.
The four walking legs have specialised lobes which resemble flower petals, while these lobes are not present on the toothed front pair of legs they are still camouflaged in colour and used for grasping prey as seen in other mantises.
Amazingly, the orchid mantis can change its colour between pink and brown, depending on the colour of the background.
Its natural habitat consists of white and pink flowers in bushes and small trees. In this way the mantis can remain unseen for predators such as birds and at the same time can catch pollinating insects that are attracted to the flowers.
But while these impressive insects have evolved over millions of years to look like flowers, it is only to the human eye that this similarity to orchids exists as they do not in fact have a relationship with, or live on orchid plants.
When hunting, the orchid mantis climbs up and down the twigs of close plants until it finds one that has flowers.
It holds on to these with the claws of its two rearmost pairs of legs, then gently sways its body from side to side.
Various small flies will land on and around it. This is because they are attracted by a small black spot on the end of its abdomen which resembles a fly.
small flies are generally ignored, but when a larger fly approaches the mantis will seize it as soon as it is within in range of its front toothed legs. It is then immediately eaten.
CHARLES DARWIN'S FAVOURITE ORCHID - Catasetum species
THE VAMPIRE ORCHID - Catasetum macrocarpum