A praying mantis, or praying mantid, is the common name for an insect of the order Mantodea. Often mistakenly spelled preying mantis (a tempting mistake, as they are notoriously predatory) they are in fact named for the typical "prayer-like" stance. The word mantis derives from the Greek word mantis for prophet or fortune teller. The preferred pluralization is mantids, though there is some usage of mantes or mantises. The world's largest praying mantis was recorded at 45cm (18") long, in Southern China, in 1929.
Like all insects, a praying mantis has a three segmented body, with
a head, thorax and abdomen. The abdomen is elongate and covered by
the wings in adults. Females have strong and large cerci. The first
thoracic segment, the prothorax is elongated and from it arises the
Praying mantis, with their huge compound eyes mounted on the triangular head, have a large field of vision. They use sight for detecting movement of prey and then turn their mobile head to bring their prey into their binocular field of view. They are able to turn their head 180 degrees for excellent vision and hearing. Their antennae are used for smell.
Praying mantis can be found in all parts of the world with mild winters and sufficient vegetation. Praying mantis will spend most of their time in a garden, forest or other vegetated area.
Being a carnivorous insect, the mantis feeds primarily on other insects. However, it is not uncommon for larger mantis to consume small reptiles and even small mammals or birds.
To capture their prey, mantids use their camouflage to blend in with the surroundings and wait for the prey to be within striking distance. They then use their raptorial front legs to quickly snatch the victim and devour it alive.
The primary predators of the praying mantis are frogs, monkeys, larger birds, spiders and snakes. Praying mantis will also prey on each other, usually during the nymph stage and during mating (Patterson).
When threatened, praying mantids stand tall and spread their forelegs with their wings fanning out wide and mouths open. The fanning of the wings is used to make the mantis seem larger and to scare the opponent, with some species having bright colors and patterns on their hind wings and inner surfaces of their front legs for this purpose. If harassment persists, the mantis will then strike with their forelegs and attempt to pinch or bite.
Mantids do not develope wings untill the final molt. Some mantids do not develope wings at all, or may have small flightless wings. The only time mantids fly is when the adult female begins to emit pheremones which attract males for mating. Contrary to popular belief, not all males become the meal of the female. Male manitds fly at night as they seem to be attracted to artificial lights. The night, however, is when bats feed, using ultrasonic sound waves to pinpoint their prey. The frequency of these sound waves indicates the location and distance of the bat's prey. According to Yager and May, praying mantids are able to hear these ultrasonic sounds and when the frequency begins to increase rapidly, indicating an approaching bat, mantids will stop flying horizontally and begin a direct, high speed nose dive towards the safety of the ground. Often this descent will be preceded by an aerial loop or spin. Other times, the entire descent will consist of a downward spiral. The mantis has one single ear, the sole purpose of the ear is for detecting bats.
The reproductive process in a majority of mantid species is marked by sexual cannibalism of the male by the female, and is an ongoing subject of research. The reason for sexual cannibalism has been the subject of some debate, with some considering submissive males to be achieving a selective advantage in their ability to produce offspring. This theory is supported by a quantifiable increase in the duration of copulation among male mantids who are cannibalized, in some cases doubling both the duration and the chance of fertilization. This is further supported in a study by J. P. Lelito and W. D. Brown where male mantids were seen to approach hungry females with more caution, and were shown to remain mounted on hungry females for a longer time, indicating that males actively avoiding cannibalism may mate with multiple females. The act of dismounting is one of the most dangerous times for male mantids during copulation, for it is at this time that female mantids most frequently cannibalize their mates. This increase in mounting duration was thought to indicate that males would be more prone to wait for an opportune time to dismount from a hungry female rather than from a satiated female that would be less likely to cannibalize its mate. Some consider this to be an indication that male submissiveness does not inherently increase male reproductive success, rather that more fit males are likely to approach a female with caution and escape.
Praying Mantis start out life in an ootheca egg mass. Usually
laid in the fall on a small branch or twig, the egg mass then
hatches in the spring to early summer as warming temperatures
signal the time for birth.
The natural lifespan of a praying mantis in the wild is about 10 - 12 months, but some mantids kept in captivity have been sustained for 14 months. In colder areas, female mantids will die during the winter. Males tend to suddenly die about 2 to 3 weeks after mating in the fall (U.S. Mantids)
Praying mantis are often kept as pets, their unique behavior and generally easy rearing requirements making them popular in the exotic pet trade, rivaling tarantulas and scorpions. An average-sized insect container or fish tank will make a suitable home. They require branches to climb on, insects to hunt and water to drink. They will drink sprayed water out of a bottle and eat crickets, widely available in pet stores. If fed too much, their abdomen can burst, killing the mantis. Hatchlings should ideally be fed on a diet of fruit flies.
The majority of the about 2,000 species' of mantids worldwide are found in Asia. There are about 20 U.S. native manitds. Two species ( Chinese Mantis, T. sinensis and European Mantis, M. religiosa) were deliberately introduced to act as pest control for agriculture. While it is completely legal to keep U.S. native mantids, chinese and european mantids in captivity or for the purpose of release on farms or in the home garden, all other species of praying mantids are illegal to possess in the United States. Common names for some illegal mantids are : spiny flower mantis, orchid mantis, wondering violin mantis, ghost manits, devils flower mantis, egyptian mantis among others are illegal under the Non Native Invasive Species Act of 1992.
This Praying Mantis Page is Copyright The Animal Web Guide © 2004 - 2009 Chuck Ayoub