Praying mantis

Praying Mantis
Enlarge picture
Adult Large Brown Mantid, Archimantis latistyla

Adult Large Brown Mantid, Archimantis latistyla
Scientific classification

praying mantis, or praying mantid, is the common name for an insect of the order Mantodea. Often mistakenly spelled preying mantis (an eggcorn, since 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,[1] though there is some usage of mantes or mantises

Like all insects, a praying mantis has a three- segmented body, with a head, thorax and abdomen. The abdomen is elongated and covered by the wings in adults. Females have strong and large cerci. The first thoracic segment, theprothorax, is elongated and from it arises the modified foreleg

Enlarge picture
Praying Mantis head and mouth close up (Quebec,Canada)


Mantids, with their huge compound eyes mounted on a triangular head, have a large field of vision. They use sight for detecting movement of prey and swivel their heads to bring their prey into a binocular field of view. They have a fully articulated head, and are able to swivel it 180 degrees as well as pivot it. Their antennae are used for smell.


Praying mantids can be found in all parts of the world with mild winters and sufficient vegetation. Praying mantids will spend most of their time in a garden, forest or other vegetated area.


Enlarge picture
The foreleg modifications

Being a carnivorous insect, the mantis feeds primarily on other insects. However, it is not uncommon for larger mantids to consume small reptilesbirds and even small mammals[2] 

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.


The primary predators of the praying mantis are frogsmonkeys, larger birds, spiders and snakes. Praying mantids will also prey on each other, usually during thenymph stage and during mating (Patterson), as well as when there is no other prey.

Defense mechanisms

When threatened, praying mantids stand tall and spread their forelegs to allow them to penetrate the target, 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, bite or slash. They also may make a hissing sound. 

Enlarge picture
A praying mantis in defense pose.

Mantids do not develop wings until the final moult. Some mantids do not develop wings at all, or may have small flightless wings. The only time mantids fly is when the adult female begins to emit pheromones which attract males for mating. Contrary to popular belief, not all males become the meal of the female. Male mantids fly at night, as they seem to be attracted to artificial lights. 

Bats, one of the mantid's natural predators, feed at night when the males are busy locating a mate. Bats useecholocation to pinpoint their prey. According to Yager and May, praying mantids are able to hear these sounds and when the frequency begins to increase rapidly, indicating an approaching bat, mantids will stop flying horizontally and begin a descending spiral toward 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 reproductive process in a majority of mantis 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[3] 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.

Endangered status

Most North American mantids are not included among endangered species, but species in other parts of the world are under threat from habitat destruction. They are protected in Connecticut, as they are the state insect.

Pest control

Mantids will consume any insect. If released in very large numbers they will cause a reduction in the number of pest insects so can be released by the hundreds, in batches throughout the season. Smaller mantids will consume aphidsfruit fliesmitesgnats and mosquitoes. Larger mantids consume flying roachescrickets, some species of grasshopper, some species of beetlesmothsflies and other larger insects. Rarely, mantids will consume small birds. The USDA lists mantids as a beneficial insect. 

Hundreds of thousands of dollars per year are spent by gardening enthusiasts who find the release of mantids to be effective.


Enlarge picture
Mantis ootheca
Praying mantids 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. This is usually caused by the female's urge to kill off the male once the egg pouch has been produced. (U.S. Mantids)


For more details on this topic, see Mantodea.
There are approximately 2,000 mantid species worldwide, the majority are found in Asia. About 20 species are native to the USA. Two species (Chinese Mantis, T. sinensis and European Mantis, M. religiosa) were deliberately introduced to serve as pest control for agriculture. While it's legal to keep USA-native mantids in the USA, other non indigenous varieties are illegal to possess and release in the United States. Some prohibited mantids are the spiny flower mantis, orchid mantis, wondering violin mantis, ghost mantis, devils flower mantis, and Egyptian mantis. These and others are illegal under the Non Native Invasive Species Act of 1992.


Brown Praying Mantis ready to strike a fly on a Sedum. (Ontario, Canada)

Praying Mantis (in Canada)

Female mantis devouring male (California)

Mantis on a Gum tree (Australia)

Mantis (Melbourne, Australia)

Paramantis prasina

Mantis nymphs clinging to a leaf (Israel)

Iris oratoria

Sudanese mantis

Mantis religiosa

Mantis ootheca

Mantis ootheca

Praying mantis ootheca

Mantis religiosa

Mantis religiosa (Pelegrina, Guadalajara)

Carolina mantis

Mantis nymph, about 4 mm long (Israel)


An adult Chinese mantis walking on glass

Mantis cleaning itself

Mantis feeding on a fly (New Zealand)

Mantis in India

Mantis on Eucalyptus tree

Mantis on raspberry


Praying Mantis head

Praying Mantis (in Canada)

Mantis eating a cricket (Philippines)

Tenodera aridifolia

Juvenile mantis (Texas)

Chinese mantis (Georgia)

Mantis in defense posture (Malaysia)

Flower #9 Mantis

An ant-like mantis

European mantis devouring a Tenebrio molitor

Ameles decolor

Costa Rican Tropical shield mantis

Dead leaf mantis

Hierodula parviceps eating a cricket

Paramantis prasina

Phyllocrania Paradoxa (female, subadult)

Popa Spurca Crassa (female, subadult)

Chinese mantis eating a bee

A slightly wet mantis.

A mantis in Virginia.

A mantis laying its ootheca.