This afternoon Ellen called me out to the front garden where she had spotted a dead hummingbird in the tall flowers. When I got there we realized that it was in the claws of a large green praying mantis, who appeared to be eating from the bird’s abdomen. On that female mantis’s back was a smaller brown male mantis in the process of impregnating the female, or so it seemed.
Now, there isn’t much to a hummingbird. They weigh only 1 ounce, and in length are about the same size as the mantises, but I’d never heard of one being brought down by this insect. A quick web search found THIS article and pictures of a similar case on the Birdwatcher’s Digest website. So, it certainly can happen, and there’s the evidence. The hummingbird was clearly dead, not moving at all, and the female mantis had a firm grip on it.
Here’s a view from the other side. The green mantis is still hard to pick out, as it blends in so well with the green leaves, but you can see the brown male more clearly. Mantises are fierce hunters, laying in wait next to inviting flowers, as these are, and pouncing on prey with catlike speed, but it’s still amazing to me it was able to make this catch.
Here’s where the real mystery comes in, though. I went out about an hour later to find the mantises still there, but no sign at all of the hummer. I searched the ground below these flowers, and found quite a few butterfly wings (previous catches I’m sure), but no hummingbird or parts thereof. I went back with a flashlight later and searched again, but still nothing. Clearly these insects could not have consumed a hummingbird entirely: wings, beak and all, especially in an hour. Did some other predator come along and take it? The most likely one I can think of would be a blue jay, which are around the yard, but I don’t see how one could grab the hummer and leave the insects undisturbed, which they seemed to be. I also saw a flying hummingbird of the same type as the dead one: an immature male. Could the bird have been merely stunned or fainted and come back to life? Ellen doesn’t think that’s possible. “The bird was DEAD. The mantis was EATING IT,” she insists. And I have to admit it was so.
There you have it, a murder mystery with classic elements: sex, death and a disappearing corpse. Where’s Sherlock Holmes when you need him…?