I just finished up a four month stint as a research fellow at the National University of Singapore. Whilst there I worked towards increasing the capacity to do orchid mantis research using model stimuli.
Flying insects such as bees and butterflies are lured towards the flower like orchid mantis. Bees can be observed making back and forth inspection flights in front of and within capture distance of orchid mantises. I recently showed that these behaviours could be stimulated by presenting wild pollinators with artificial orchid mantis models. Using artificial models allows me to manipulate the signals presented by the orchid mantis so that I can conduct experiments to understand how different aspects of their colour and morphology affect pollinator behaviour.
I started off by putting together some scale drawings of a sub adult female orchid mantis based on photographs I had previously taken. Then using these reference drawings I sculpted a 3D model using the open source software Blender.
Once I had my 3D sculpture I worked with the 3D printing company Shapeways to print out the final models. The model had to go through a few iterations as the delicate legs of the orchid mantis were pushing the limits of how thin the 3D printers could actually produce. With a printable prototype in hand I then started working on the making several different versions to use as treatments in field experiments.
The experiments are ongoing and are likely to take a while. Conducting field work in Malaysia is difficult, especially when you are based in Australia. For now you can get your 3D printed orchid mantis kicks by purchasing your very own 3D printed mantis! I put together a larger more robust model based on the experimental models and have made it available online.
Follow this link to check out the orchid mantis models available for sale. I recommend the strong and flexible plastic materials as the model, although larger than the real thing is still very delicate. The models take a few weeks to produce and keep in mind they are posted from the US so postage is the most expensive part. Check out the rest of the Shapeways site and stock up on wacky 3D printed goodies to make the postage costs worthwhile 🙂
Now that I have the Shapeways store up and running I am working on putting together some more science/zoology themed designs that I will be prototyping and making available soon!