Move over, Mothman. This insectoid predator has monster pincers. He may not be an urban legend squatting in the dark corners of the internet, but the “squatting mantis-man” petroglyph (engraved rock art) unearthed in Tehran, Iran, has his own mythical background. Most petroglyphs of animals tend to show vertebrates, from hunting scenes to images of pets, but not giant bugs that look as if they could bite your head off. It took a team of archaeologists and entomologists to really try and demystify what they call an “invertebrate-morph”.
“Morphological similarity and distinct features suggest the inspected petroglyph likely symbolizes a praying mantid,” said Mahmood Kolnegari and his team of researchers, who recently published a study in Journal of Orthoptera Research. “Mantid-like motifs have been found in several regions around the world—some were even considered as alien symbols.”
Turns out the mantis-man isn’t biting anyone’s head off, and not because the females off this species tend to do that. The praying mantis (unlike the beast from the 1957 film The Deadly Mantis, above) had supernatural associations in ancient Iran — not the horror movie kind. It was thought to be a symbol of the barrier between Earth and the realm of the Gods. Though the team did notice that the posture of the mantis with its claws raised looks like the insect’s typical startled reaction meant to frighten predators, they acknowledged that there are only so many things you can do with two-dimensional images on rock.
Mystical mantids go all the way back to the Mesopotamians who first populated the Fertile Crescent. There have also been pictographs of so-called “mantis people” found in southern Africa. Even the Egyptian Book of the Dead depicts them as lesser deities of the underworld, guiding the spirits of the dead to the ultimate judgement. They even had their own hieroglyphic symbol in ancient Egypt. There are also theories that mantids emerged on ancient petroglyphs because the artists were using hallucinogenic plants as part of an unknown ritual.
“The praying mantids have always fascinated, scared, and astonished mankind with their camouflage and mimicry ability, their skills in hunting and capturing prey, and for their bizarre sexual behaviors,” Kolnegari said, adding that they “were animals of mysticism and appreciation.”
Someone out there (Guillermo del Toro, are you listening?) needs to bring this cryptid to life in a mantis-man movie.