March 16 (UPI) -- Researchers have discovered a unique petroglyph, depicting what appears to be a six-legged mantis-man, at the Teymareh rock art site in Iran.
Invertebrates are rarely found in rock carvings, so the archaeologists on the project recruited entomologists to help them determine what kinds of creatures might have inspired the motif. Researchers looked at several six-legged species that prehistoric artists might have come across in central Iran.
The motif measures just 5.5 inches in length, and though it was discovered in 2017, its small size and unusual shape made it difficult to identify. In addition to boasting six legs, the creature features large eyes and enlarged pincher-like forearms.
The entomologists on the study identified an extension on the creature's head that matches local praying mantis species belonging to the genus Empusa.
Scientists estimate the rock art is between 4,000 and 40,000 years old.
"The petroglyph proves that praying mantids have been astounding and inspiring humans since prehistoric times," researchers wrote in the Journal of Orthoptera.
The figure isn't a perfect representation of a Empusa mantis, as the middle limbs feature loops as a hands. Researchers linked the carving with a common petroglyph motif known as "Squatter Man," which has been found at rock art sites around the world. The motif features a person flanked by circles.
Some researchers suggest the circles represent the atmospheric plasma discharges created by auroras.
The discovery of the latest petroglyph reinforces the theory, based on previous discoveries of half-mantid, half-human figures, that the mantis was a symbol for the supernatural.
"An example includes several prehistoric pictographs in southern Africa representing 'mantis people' with half-mantid bodies," researchers wrote in their paper. "These, and the Iranian mantid petroglyph, bear witness that in prehistory, almost as today, praying mantids were animals of mysticism and appreciation."