The charismatic praying mantid: A gateway for insect conservation
Praying mantids (Mantodea) are not only apex predators with a ‘mystical’ status, but are also regarded as a kind of oracle and, in some cultures, as omens associated with good or bad. In the future, the cultural, mystical and religious values allocated to mantids over millennia can contribute not only to their own conservation, but also to conservation of arthropods in general. Historically, Mantodea influenced African, Greek, Egyptian, Japanese and Chinese cultures and they affected human culture in a variety of ways. Some of these are coin designs, hairstyles, swords, death rituals, war strategies, advertisements, children’s books and even modern music. Despite human fascination with mantids, this group of arthropods is unfortunately overlooked in terms of conservation and research. Conservation as a mitigation strategy to protect threatened and endangered species is influenced by philosophical and psychological aspects and requires more than a purely scientific approach. This paper highlights the role of praying mantids in human culture and the historical relationships between humans and other arthropods. Acknowledgement of these cultural aspects of the mantids may contribute to a positive change in people’s perceptions of arthropods and eventually in insect conservation. It is suggested that mantids could be used as a flagship or gateway species to advance awareness of insect conservation. We can generate much needed insect appreciation by building on the existing ‘global’ cultural values, fascination and intrigue of the charismatic mantid, therefore increasing wonderment of the small things that dominate the world we live in.
Keywords: biodiversity, cultural value, ethno-entomology