November 21, 2016
In the newly released film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a new beloved character, a bowtruckle named Pickett, captures the hearts of the audience. In the wizarding world of J.K. Rowling, who wrote the Fantastic Beasts screenplay, Bowtruckles are small, twig-like creatures that guard wand-wood trees. Bowtruckles’ most notable physical characteristic is their natural camouflage, which helps them blend in with their forested natural habitats.
Pickett the bowtruckle in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them:
While in some cases, camouflage can seem quite magical (for instance, check out this video demonstrating cephalopod camouflage), plenty of real-life or “no-mag” animals share the bowtruckles’ ability. One example is the praying mantis (Mantis religiosa)—a cool creature we just happened to stumble across the day after we saw Fantastic Beasts. We found our real-life Pickett crossing the road near the base of Mount Lee, a peak in the Santa Monica mountains of Los Angeles, California.
Praying mantids (the group of insects that includes mantises) are ambush predators; they hunt using lightning-fast reflexes and the element of surprise. A praying mantid waits patiently until prey is close enough to reach out and grab. Spines along those elongated front legs hold the prey in place while the mantid eats.
What’s on the menu for these carnivores? Praying mantids eat other insects such as flies, moths, crickets, and grasshoppers as well as small non-insects, like spiders and lizards. They may even eat other praying mantids. Female praying mantises, for instance, sometimes eat their partners after mating.
Praying mantids may look similar to stick insects (and fictional bowtruckles), but their distinguishing characteristics include triangular heads, bulging eyes, and that oddly upright posture, which makes it look like the insects are in prayer. They can also swivel their heads halfway around in a circle—a full 180 degrees!
And even though our praying mantis probably can’t pick locks or help get us out of trouble like Pickett in Fantastic Beasts, we still think he or she is pretty fantastic! Watch our “Pickett” in action in this home video (link below).
Bethanie Hestermann is a freelance writer and co-author of Zoology for Kids.