The mantids are known for their great hunting skills. The usual prey for the mantis are moth, flies, crickets, grasshoppers, and also other mantises. They also eat soft shelled turtles, mice, newts, etc., and birds like the humming bird. Mantids have a strong digestive system, allowing them to devor even small snakes if the need be. They usually bite their prey on the neck to paralyze it and then start eating from the front to ensure the least struggle. They have large appetites and an average mantis is known to eat up to sixteen crickets a day.
Farmers and gardeners often use mantids as natural 'pest control' because of their known preying skills and appetite.
Cannibalism during Mating
The females of the species have been made infamous for their cannibalistic behavior. They are said to eat their mate just after or even during mating. It is thought that the act helps the female get enough protein and vitamins for the development of the eggs from the male. The scientific view about this is divided. While some scientists believe it to be a natural characteristic of the female mantids, some others feel that this particular mantis behavior is misunderstood, as it is just a natural instinct to snare prey that leads the uninterested female to jump on the male. It has also been found that this kind of situation mostly arises under lab conditions where the chances of the male becoming prey to the female are 5 to 31 percent.
More truthfully and interestingly, the male mantis performs a ritual dance around the female before mating to make her notice him, and if the female is receptive she accepts by using a receptive posture or a dance herself.
The female lays hundred of eggs that are enclosed in a small case called the ootheca. This mass is actually protein foam that hardens later for protection. It hangs from the support of a twig or a leaf and the eggs hatch into nymphs in spring or early summer when the warm temperatures signal the time for birth. Often the first meal of these nymphs is a sibling. They also eat aphids, small flies, etc., and shed many times to ultimately mature into adult form. The young often resemble ants without wings and there are some species that never grow wings.
The life span of a praying mantis is 10 to 12 months and mortality rate is usually higher in the winter.
When they sense threat the praying mantis stand on their hind legs, spread their wings and front legs with their mouth open to appear taller than their original height and scare the predator. In some species the hind wings and the inner surface of the front legs are brightly colored for the purpose of deterring the opponent. If they continue to feel threatened, the mantids strike with their front legs and bite, pinch and slash the predator.
- The biggest praying mantises are the Tenodera and the Archimantis, which are six inches long.
The Bolbe pygmaea, which is just 2/5 inch long is the smallest mantis.
- Some scientists believe that the mantis is closely related to the cockroach and the herbivore woodstick insects.
- In China people used roasted mantis eggs to cure the problem of bedwetting.
- European mantis were introduced in United States to kill other insects that harm farm crops, but their saliva was mistakenly thought to poison livestock.
The praying mantis is thus a tiny creature that is well equipped to survive in this giant world.