Praying Mantis

(Suborder Mantodea)

Most people call members of the suborder Mantodea, Praying Mantis. Referring to their prayer-like posture when sitting

Mantids, with the large eyes and swiveling head.

They entertain and fascinate us.

You may be totally afraid of these menacing looking insects.

Mantis is a Greek word meaning prophet or soothsayer.


Praying Mantis

At maturity, most mantids are large insects, 2.5 to 3 plus inches in length (5-8 centimeters). Like all members of the order Dictyoptera, mantids have leathery forewings that fold over their abdomens when at rest. They move slowly, and prefer walking among the branches and leaves of plants to flying from place to place.

The mantid's triangular head can rotate and swivel, even allowing it to look over its "shoulder", which is a unique ability in the insect world.

Two large compound eyes and up to three ocelli (A photoreceptor organ in animals). Between them, they help the mantid navigate its world. The first pair of legs, held distinctively forward, allow the mantid to catch and grasp insects and other prey.

Species in North America are typically green or brown in color.

In tropical areas, mantid species come in a variety of colors, sometimes mimicking flowers.


Mantis are carnivorous insects that takes up a deceptively humble posture when it is searching for food.

Praying mantises do not actively hunt down their prey. Instead, they wait unmoving and virtually invisible on a leaf or stem, ready to seize any passing insect.

When potential prey comes within range, the mantis thrust its pincer like forelegs forward to grasp the insect.

Any chance of escape is minimized by the viselike grip facilitated by the rows of hooked spines along the inner part of the mantis' front legs.

The mantis bites its prey's head off first.

Mantids prey on other insects, and are sometimes considered a beneficial garden insect for that reason.

However, a hungry praying mantis will not discriminate when feeding, and may eat other beneficial insects as well as those we call pests in our gardens.

Some species of Mantodea even prey on vertebrates, including hummingbirds and lizards.

Cannibalism is not unheard of.

Life Cycle:

Members of the family Mantodea undergo simple or incomplete metamorphosis, with three life cycle stages: egg, nymph, and adult.

After mating, the female lays, her eggs in batches enclosed in a tough, spongy envelope called an ootheca.

Praying mantis eggs

The ootheca is attached to fence posts, twigs, stems, or sometimes buried in the ground.

The females of some species of mantis stand guard over their eggs until the young emerge.

They fend off attacks by parasitic wasps which lay their eggs in the eggs of the mantis.

The eggs hatch 3 weeks to 6 months after being laid.

The young emerge from the eggs through tiny holes in the ootheca.

Our largest praying mantis is the introduced Chinese species.

This is the species (egg cases) often offered in garden centers and catalogs.

The nymph (to your right) emerges from the egg mass as a tiny version of the adult mantid.

As it grows, the nymph molts until it develops functioning wings and reaches adult size.

In temperate climates, adults live from spring to fall, when they mate and lay eggs, which over winter. Tropical species may live as long as twelve months.

The female praying mantis widely known for her particular habit of biting the head off her partner after mating.

This cannibalistic act was once believed to be a regular practice.

However, it now seems likely that it is much rarer in female mantises in the wild than in captive mantises kept in a cage.

Special Adaptations and Defenses:

A praying mantis primary defense is camouflage.

By blending into its environment, the praying mantis stays hidden from predators and prey alike.

They may mimic sticks, leaves, bark, and flowers with their colors.

Praying mantis have a number of enemies, particularly birds. In order to discourage them, large mantises will strike out with their spiny forelegs.

Other species, not large enough to frighten an enemy in this way, seek to discourage an aggressor by suddenly exposing brightly colored wings, which often have false eye-spots to give the impression of a frighteningly aggressive face.

Such tactics are only necessary when the mantis has actually been seen. The first line of defense is to avoid detection at all.

Most mantises are therefore well camouflaged for its survival, to avoid been eaten by birds. Grass-dwellers tend to be green, and tree-dwellers are often mottled brown.

In Australia and Africa, some mantids molt after fires, changing their color to the black of the charred landscape.

If threatened, a mantid will stand tall and spread its front legs to appear larger. Though not venomous, they will bite to defend themselves. In some species, the mantid may also expel air from its spiracles, making a hissing sound to scare off predators.

Some mantis that fly at night can detect the echolocation sounds of bats, and react with a sudden change in direction to avoid being eaten.

Praying mantis

Range and Distribution:

Over 2,300 species of praying mantis occur worldwide.

Mantids live in both temperate and tropical climates, on every continent except Antarctica.

Twenty species are native to North America.

Two introduced species,
the Chinese mantid (Tenodera aridifolia sinensis) and the European mantid (Mantis religiosa) are now common throughout the United States.

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