Praying Mantis

A Praying Mantis
A Praying Mantis
The praying mantis or, Mantidae, is a predatory insect. Throughout the world there are 2,000 species that have been discovered. The praying mantis plays a huge part in keeping the bug population at a reasonable number, especially those that are harmful to farmer's crops. The name "praying mantis" is derived from the Greek language. Mantis means "diviner", or "prophet." Praying was put in front of mantis due to the insect's prayer-like stance. Surprisingly enough, scientists have said that this insect is closely related to the cockroach.


The body of the praying mantis includes three distinct body regions: the head, the thorax, and the abdomen. The legs and sometimes wings are attatched to the thorax, as well. They use their front legs (raptorial legs) for grabbing and holding prey, and because of their strong spikes, they work well as graspers. These legs are also the very thing that the praying mantis is
A Ground Mantis
A Ground Mantis
famous for. The raptorial legs are held in such a way that it looks like the mantis is "praying with folded hands." The thorax which contains the legs is elongated and a very distinctive neck is formed. This feature allows the mantis to turn it's head without moving it's torso. Large compound eyes can be found on the head, which can move freely. There are also three simple eyes between these compound eyes. With these eyes, they can see predators from up to 60 feet away! The head of the mantis is shaped triangularly and can rotate up to 300 degrees in some species. The colors vary from faint green to faint pink, but the most common colors are brown or pea green. Generally, the praying mantis is a relatively large insect, the average being a rough 3 inches. However, the largest praying mantis species measure to be 6 inches long (Tenodera and Archimantis) and the smallest species measures to be a single centimeter long (Ground Mantis). The females also tend to be larger than the males.

A Camouflaged Praying Mantis


The praying mantis can mostly be found in tropical, subtropical, and warm temperature areas. The praying mantises that are found in North America tend to be green or brown. Habitat has a large effect on the color of the mantis, because camouflage plays a huge role in hiding from other insects and predators. If the mantis is green, they would want to stay in a habitat with a lot of leaves to essentially survive. Another would be a pink praying mantis, who's habitat has native flowers in which they could blend in with. A warmer climate is preferred for the mantis, and they generally live in gardens, forests, or areas with green vegetation.

Geographic Range

North and South America, South Africa, Europe, various parts of Australia, and southern Asia are all countries in which different species can be found. The Carolina mantid is a very common species in the eastern United States, The Chinese and European species can also be found in the Northeastern United States, because they were introduced to the area 75 years ago due to a high pest population, and them being garden predators. There are about 20 different species of the mantis that can be found in the United States,

A Map Showing Where Praying Mantises Can Be Located

Mating Behavior

The mating habits and behavior of the praying mantis are quite a famous topic, and are referred to as "sexual cannibalism." However, there are a few different outcomes to the mating of two mantises. Breeding season occurs in the late summer. The female first creates a pheromone to attract the male, in which the male will then cautiously approach her. There are two common reactions, or "courtships" in which the male will follow through with. The most common courtship is when the male approaches the female from the front, slowing the speed of his approach the closer he gets. The second most common courtship is a different approach, in which the male comes to the female from behind, speeding his approach the closer he gets. He will then jump on her back, they will mate, and he will fly away. Generally, the male will simply fly away unharmed, unlike many other beliefs.

Sexual Cannibalism

It is a very well known, and intriguing fact that after a female praying mantis mates, it will bite off the head of the male mantis. However, this process, referred to as "sexual cannibalism" happens less often then people think. Rather than this occurring every time two mantises mate, it truly only happens less than 30% of the time. There are however, advantages for the female if she does decide to behead her mate. The male would supply a kind of vitamin to his offspring, giving them strength and a better chance for survival. Without his head, the male mantis would also be able to fertilize the eggs of the female faster, too. Sexual cannibalism seems to occur mainly when the female is hungry, or impatience. There is one species, however, in which the head of the male must be removed for mating to take effect properly. This species is the Mantis religiousa or the European Mantid.

Life Cycle

The life of the praying mantis starts in mid-May to September, and they live for approximately six months, some species living up to a year. Three stages are included in the life cycle: the egg stage, the nymph stage, and the adult stage.

Egg Stage

The very beginning of the praying mantis life cycle begins in the fall. The female mantis lays her eggs within two weeks after fertilization in a frothy material called the ootheca. The ootheca contains compartment-like spaces for every egg, each of which that has a valve-like structure that helps the baby mantis out of the casing during hatching. In this egg case lies 100 to 400 tiny eggs, all waiting to hatch. Generally, the adult mantis will secure her eggs on a sturdy object including leaves, twigs, and stems. After this, the frothy liquid (not quite an ootheca yet) will harden and become a protective layer for the mantis' during the harsh winter.

The Ootheca of a Praying Mantis

Nymph Stage
After spending the cold months developing in their egg case, the mantises will finally hatch during the spring and enter the nymph stage. The creatures are hemimetabolous, in that they are a perfect replica of their parents in both appearance and habit, albeit smaller in size. The nymphs spend time near the egg case for a while (after hatching). and some will even try to eat it's fellow brother or sister mantis. After hatching, the mantis is already a deadly hunter. They first eat small insects like fruit flies, for other large predators pose as a threat. Considering the nymphs vulnerability, a large number of them will not survive after this stage.

Adult Stage

The mantises that do survive the nymph stage will then move on to the adult stage. This stage flourishes during the summer. The mantises spend the late spring to early summer months hunting and eating whatever they can get their hands on. They grow at a relatively steady pace, until eventually, they shed their outer coat (as often as seven or eight times) to make room for their larger body. This process is known as molting, and will not stop until the mantis has reached it's full size. During the last shedding of the exoskeleton, the mantis will most likely have developed wings. The mantis is incredibly vulnerable while molting, for each time they shed, it takes them a few hours. The mantis will try to hide until the new outer layer has hardened, however not all survive this process; some will even get stuck in their old skin and die. However, if a mantis successfully sheds their old skin, they will be stronger, bigger, and have a better chance for survival.

Feeding Habits

The praying mantis is a carnivorous insect, it's two front legs being it's deadly weapon. Sharp spines lining the legs are used to grasp the prey. The camouflage that the insect uses is particularly helpful in the hunting process, for they blend right into a leaf or flower, waiting to strike. As soon as another insect comes close enough, the mantis will strike out it's forelegs and catch it.
A Praying Mantis Having Successfully Hunted A Hummingbird

After this, the mantis will then bite the neck of the prey, paralyzing it, and follow by devouring it. The insect will almost always be alive while the mantis is eating it, and the mantis will also almost always eat the insect starting from the neck, allowing the struggling to come to a quick halt. Some of the animals the mantises hunt include other mantises, beetles, butterflies,

spiders, crickets, grasshoppers, small tree frogs, lizards, mice, and sometimes even hummingbirds. If a praying mantis does manage to catch a hummingbird as it's prey, its is most likely because the praying mantis was disguising itself as a flower, and a small hummingbird simply got in the way. Nymphs and full grown praying mantises will go through the same hunting process, the only difference being in the species that they hunt. Nymphs will normally hunt smaller creatures, for they are not strong enough to succeed in hunting a larger one.

Ecological Role

The praying mantis is known to be a pest because of it's food habits. They will eat many other insects and animals that are beneficial, including bees and flies which are pollinators, as well as spiders, which attack aphids. However, the mantis greatly lowers the numbers of agricultural pests. Organic gardeners will often use praying mantises as a substitute for pesticides.



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