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I’ve been protective around our hummingbird feeder since I’ve learned there’s an unlikely predator on the prowl.

The feeder hangs outside our dining room window and is a constant waterhole for our hummers. We spend much time watching them, and sometimes, they rest on the feeder and watch us in return. We welcome them in our yard’s mini-ecosystem because, after all, they are pollinators.

My protectiveness began a few weeks ago after we saw a praying mantis in our yard. We were excited because we had not seen one there before and because they are such unique creatures. To think the mantis is a relative of the cockroach and termite, creatures humans often detest, is surprising. But because the mantis has such a regal poise and sophistication, we often underestimate their dominance in the food chain. They are predators.

A praying mantis patiently waits and ambushes its prey. While they appear peaceful, often stoic in a “praying position,” they have spikes on their legs for snaring and are equipped with large mandibles made for munching. With the ability to camouflage itself and a head that turns 180 degrees, they are superior hunters.

As in any ecosystem, both predator and prey are needed for a healthy balance. That’s why it’s a good sign when a praying mantis is in your yard, and for that reason, I was excited when we saw one on our porch, not far from our hummingbird feeder.

While much of the mantis diet includes insects such as grasshoppers, crickets and flies, I found out they also have an interest in lizards, frogs, and small birds — such as hummingbirds.

I came to find this out when a friend posted on Facebook a picture of a praying mantis in their yard. One comment on the photo said they eat hummingbirds. Someone replied to that comment and said they had seen this happen. But I was skeptical, having never heard of such a thing.

I began my research of more “qualified” sources. I read articles published by National Geographic, Newsweek, The New York Times and even The Bend Bulletin. Those articles quoted experts and scientists on the matter.

I also found YouTube videos that caught the event as it happened. Most of the videos showed the attacks occurring on a hummingbird feeder. I was shocked to watch one. And one was enough. I thought about the mantis we saw just a few feet from our feeder and realized what it may have been up to.

As it turns out, a praying mantis may see a hummingbird feeder as a honey hole. It positions itself in stealth and silence until an unsuspecting hummer comes to feed. It strikes at a speed faster than the blink of an eye and snatches the hummingbird, often stabbing its leg through the bird’s skull. The mantis then uses its strong mandibles to bite through the skull and eat the nutrient-rich brain.

Watching that video reminded me of when I was on a safari in Tanzania years ago. One day, as we drove on two ruts in the middle of the Serengeti, we were stopped by a lioness and her two cubs out for a hunt on a group of gazelles. The lions were using our “road” for their stalking zone.

Since drivers can’t leave the road, we were stopped indefinitely as the lions went about their business. When the cubs made a break toward the herd, after a short and slightly sloppy chase, the gazelles bounced away to safety. It was a rare gift we were given to see such an incredible event.

I was relieved to not witness them get captured, but I soon realized how selfish that was. The family of lions may have gone without food that day. That could have been the meal they needed to sustain the next few days. For them to thrive something else had to die. Like the gazelles, hummingbirds are also part of the food chain and satisfy the hunger of a predator.

I know every species must eat to survive. But I feel so protective of the hummers that fly above me without fear, and chirp at me when their feeder is empty. Since learning about the praying mantis and its brain-sucking tendencies, I’ve been watching our feeder closely.

I don’t think I could kill the mantis, but I don’t want to see the mantis kill a hummingbird. I do know, however, I want my feeder to be a mantis-free-zone.

Allison Lamplugh is a free-lance writer for the Philomath Express.

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