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All About the Praying Mantis

written by: Atula Gupta•edited by: Rebecca Scudder•updated: 5/25/2011

The Praying Mantis is an insect that has remained the subject of curiosity for ages because of its strange posture and predatory behaviour. Here is a more detailed look at this interesting creature's habits and life.

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    Know the Praying Mantis

    The praying mantis is one of the most interesting creations of the insect world, and human beings have always been fascinated by the insects that seem to be praying constantly with their folded front legs.

    The mantis has been part of folklore for a long time with different cultures interpreting the shape and characters of a mantis in different ways. Here is more information about the mantis that makes it a fascinating creature to observe and admire.


    The praying mantis is often misspelled as the ‘preying mantis’ which is not a totally incorrect interpretation as it is one of the toughest predators of the insect world. However, the actual name comes from its prominent front legs that are bent in such a way that it seems the insect is offering prayers. The word ‘mantis’ in fact has originated from Greek meaning ‘prophet’ or ‘soothsayer’. A group of praying mantis is known as the praying mantids.


    The mantids are found in all parts of the world with around 2000 species of the insect known. They are most common in Asia, but in the US there are 20 species of the praying mantis. The most common U.S. mantises are the European mantis, Mantis religiosa, the Chinese mantis, Tenodera aridifolia sinensis, and the Narrow-winged mantis, Tenodera angustipennis.They prefer mild winters and ample vegetation and live in places where green foliage is in abundance.


    The praying mantis is most commonly green or brown colored, providing it with excellent camouflage against the leafy surroundings. It likes to stalk its prey like a tiger before snaring it with the front legs. The reflexes of this little insect are so quick that it is impossible to see its action with naked eyes. The additional spikes on the legs help the mantis keep the caught prey in place.

    The mantis also has a triangular head that it can turn up to 180 degrees, which it uses along with the two compound eyes and three normal eyes to scan its surroundings. The neck is elongated, further helping it to swiftly move its head. Like a human, the mantis is the only insect that can actually turn its head comfortably in both directions. It is believed that the mantis can see as far as 60 feet away; this strong eye sight helps it stalk on a prey and attack at the appropriate moment.

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    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.

    Life Cycle

    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.

    Defense Mechanism

    respres 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.

    Interesting Facts

    • 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.

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    Image Credit

    The_Gut via cc/Flickr

    respres via cc/Flickr