Sexual dimorphism of tympanate auditory systems in insects has bees described in only a few taxonomically isolated cases. However, widespread sexual dimorphism occurs in the ultrasound-sensitive, midline ear of the praying mantis.
In dimorphic species, it is always the female mantis that shows a reduction in ultrasonic hearing. The dimorphism may be mild—a difference in tuning and small reduction in sensitivity—or extreme with no evidence of audition in the female. In all but the mildest cases, the reduction in hearing is accompanied by significant anatomical divergence from the male ear structure. Two distinct metathoracic groove (‘ear’) types are linked to hearing reduction in the females.
Anatomical evidence of auditory sexual dimorphism appears in 34% of the 183 mantis genera examined. The dimorphic genera are widely but non-uniformly distributed within three of the four largest mantis families.
Auditory sexual dimorphism is closely correlated with dimorphism in wing length. In general, mantises with functional wings have sensitive ultrasonic hearing while those with short wings do not. These findings support the hypothesis that ultrasonic hearing in mantises is part of a defensive system against attack by echolocating bats.