Alien Insects: Praying Mantis
Nature's Perfect Predators

Alien Insects: Praying Mantis
Nature's Perfect Predators

Mantids are notable for their hunting abilities. They are exclusively predatory, and their diet usually consists of living insects, including flies and aphids.

Larger species have been known to prey on small lizards, frogs, birds, snakes, and even rodents.

Most mantids are ambush predators, waiting for prey to stray too near. The mantis then lashes out at remarkable speed. Some ground and bark species, however, pursue their prey rather quickly.

Praying mantis are large insects, from one to three inches long, with a distinctive appearance. Depending upon the species, mantis may be green, brown or tan.

They have relatively large heads borne on a greatly lengthened prothorax ("the better to see you with, my dearie") and large leg segments.

They are the Popeyes of the insect world. The legs are armed with spines to help capture and grasp prey. The middle and hind legs are slimmer. Antennae are relatively short relative to the rest of the body. The narrow wings are long, folded fanlike. They cover the abdomen.

Mantids grab their prey with the raptorial front legs which can quickly shoot out and grasp a victim. The mantis's mouth is more grasshopper like; its small mandibles require that the insect eat live prey like a stalk of celery.

Mantis feed upon a variety of insects, and they have even been known to capture and consume hummingbirds.

Courtship and mating may be a hazardous undertaking for the male. The female may grab the male and eat him from the head end. After mating, mantis lay eggs in masses of foam.

The egg case clusters are called ootheca, and, depending upon the species, may produce from 30 to 300 young.

Young mantis emerge from the top of the egg case the following year, using a seam which resembles a zipper. Occasionally, parasitic wasps inject eggs into the sides of the egg cases, and their young develop by feeding on the larvae of the mantis.

When the young mantis emerge, if there is insufficient prey, they will resort to siblingcide.

Like their relatives the cockroaches, mantis undergo simple or incomplete metamorphosis. There is not a caterpillar or maggot stage. The young go through several nymphal stages in which they resemble miniature wingless adults.

Males and females can be sexed by the number of abdominal segments. Males have eight segments, the females, six.

There are many species of mantis worldwide. One species in Sri Lanka may reach 10 inches in length, and like other large species from South America, these large mantis may prey on insects, small birds and reptiles. Though mantis have wings, they do not migrate.

They fly more at night, which makes them more susceptible to predation by bats. Females lay their egg cases in the autumn, and one generation of mantis develops each season. The European praying mantis is the official Connecticut State Insect.