'This Hanging Pot Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us!'

'This Hanging Pot Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us!'

"This hanging potted plant ain't big enough for both of us!"

That's what a female praying mantis, Stagmomantis limbata, seemed to be warning when she encountered another female on "her" hanging potted plant.

So, how do you beat the competition? You defeat 'em and then you eat 'em.

That's what Vacaville resident Mike Castro witnessed recently.

The hot spot: A hanging pot of porcelain flowers, aka wax flowers (Hoya carnosa). When the flowers finished blooming in his garden, Castro transferred the hanging pot to his patio.

Castro soon observed a female and a male mantis "getting busy" (mating) on the hanging rope, but the male did not lose his head.

Several days later, he saw two females battling one another. The victorious female promptly decapitated her victim and then proceeded to eat her--everything but the wings and legs.

We showed Castro's images to praying mantis expert Lohitashwa "Lohit" Garikipati, a 2012 UC Davis entomology graduate who is studying for his master's degree in biology it Towson University, Md., with advisor Christopher Oufiero, with plans to obtain his doctorate.

"What he observed is really cool actually!" Garikipati wrote in an email. It's an example of female territoriality. Often times before it gets to this stage, one female (usually the more defensive individual) will attempt to display or throw bluff strikes to deter the aggressor--in this case it is likely a case of beneficial happenstance for the victor; she has less competition now and made a meal of the competitor. What often happens more typically, though, is that the more territorial individual will simply decapitate or de-arm a competitor,  but will not consume the entire mantis. I've seen it a lot thanks to captive observation--mantises do seem to recognize conspecifics, or at the very least that an insect is a mantis. Some species even have species specific mating displays!

"Such examples of territoriality can be hard to observe in the wild, but this is one such example!" Garikipati noted. "And for adult females later into the year. competition is indeed stiff and everything that can help them survive and lay eggs is a benefit."

The PPB (Potted Plant Battle) brings to mind the 'ol Western movie phrase, "this town ain't big enough for both of us" which appeared in:

  • The Virginian (1929): "Trampas: "This world isn't big enough for the both of us!"
  • The Western Code (1932): Nick Grindell: "This town ain't big enough for the both of us and I'm going to give you 24 hours to get out. If I see you in Carabinas by this time tomorrow, it's you or me!"
  • A song, "This Town Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us," written by Ron Mael and performed by American pop band Sparks, for their studio album Kimono My House (1974).  

Researchers, however, attribute the first recorded usage of the phrase to Emerson Hough's 1926 novel, "The Covered Wagon."  Jack McPherson, a character in his book, proclaims "There ain't room in this here wagon train fer both of us, an' one of us has got to hit the trail." 

Flash back to Vacaville: one female praying mantis did "not hit the trail" when warned--and lost the fight, her head and her body. 

And probably her dignity...Girls will be girls?