Adapted from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter of March 3, 2007
issued from Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve,
QUERÉTARO, MÉXICO

A MEXICAN UNICORN MANTIS

My little hut being in former times the gate-man's office, its outside walls are furnished with bright security lamps that burn through the night. Each morning I check beneath the lights to see if any interesting nocturnal insects have been attracted there. Until now there's not been much to note -- until Sunday morning.

That morning, the critter seen below turned up.

Mexican Unicorn Mantis, PHYLLOVATES CHLOROPHAEA

That's the Mexican Unicorn Mantis, PHYLLOVATES CHLOROPHAEA, a male. At first glance it looks a lot like the big Praying Mantises most of us in North America have seen. But, notice the slender "horn" atop its head and, even more spectacularly, the curiously upturned rear end.

So, having no field guide to Mexican insects, how did I identify this creature, and even determine that he was a male?

Of course the answer is my usual one: I Googled it.

Using Google's image-search feature I searched on the keywords "mantis mexico," then looked at thumbnail pictures. There I found a photo of an obviously closely related species, but not mine. That related species was known as a unicorn mantis, so now I Googled "unicorn mantis," results from which helped me zero in a bit more. Looking for more info on unicorn mantises I discovered an online forum on mantises, at http://mantidforum.com/forum/.

I joined that forum, posted my picture, took my Sunday hike, and when I returned found that at the forum there'd been a fine discussion going on about my find, involving people in North Carolina, Houston, Germany and the UK. And after some debate these mantis-connoisseurs had decided I had a male Phyllovates chlorophaea.

What a grand tool this Internet is for naturalists!

Also it seems to be a good place for selling tropical mantises. On my first day I got two offers for my critter, but I told both buyers that my mantis was going to stay where he was until he flew off, or was eaten by some bigger critter needing a meal. He was gone on Wednesday morning.