Unlike most other insects, praying mantis (Mantis religiosa) feeds on birds. These insects are believed to have evolved from cockroaches some 65 million years ago. Praying mantis belongs to the order Mantodea which contains 434 genera and 2,300 species. The mantis makes home in tropical and temperate habitats. It earns its name due to its prayer-like posture. They are often confused with crickets, cockroaches, stick insects, termites, and grasshoppers.
Praying Mantis Facts For Kids
- Mantises are recognized by their raptorial forelegs which are built to get hold of the prey as firmly as possible.
- Their neck muscles are flexible so much so that they can turn their heads a full 180 degrees.
- Praying mantis can see up to 20 meters.
- They are diurnal species and as such they rely mostly on vision for hunting.
- Many mantis species also fly at night and they are mostly seen around artificial lights.
- Praying mantis has two sets of legs which do not only serve as a shield but also it provides a camouflage.
- The hind legs are much wider and transparent. These legs are essential for the flight.
- Females are larger than males, sometimes twice their size. In comparison to the males they seldom take flight.
- The colors of mantis depend on their habitats. Mantis that lives in the meadows or savannas show straw-colored or light green plumage while those that are found in leaf litter are likely to be brown in appearance.
- With the exception of Gongylus gongylodes almost all mantids have triangular-shaped head.
- The praying mantis possesses two apposition compound eyes and three simple eyes. The structure of their eyes is so developed that it allows for greater light sensitivity in dim settings at the cost of image resolution.
- There is a ‘cyclopean’ ear which is located in a deep groove between the hind legs and tympanal membranes. These are not morphologically separated from the other body parts.
- Unlike most insects the praying mantis is one of the few species which possesses multiple hearing organs. There are two lineages: one of them is tuned to higher ultrasonic frequencies (25 to 40 kHz) and while the other is tuned to lower frequencies (2–4 kHz).
- The distinctive feature of praying mantis is its mobile head along with the long and narrow antennae.
- It has two pairs of wings, the hind wings and the forewings (tegmina).
- The praying mantis is a tropical species as is readily found in the rainforests of South America, Southeast Asia, and Africa.
- As we move toward temperate regions, the mantis diversity decreases. It does not survive in tundra and boreal climates.
- Very few mantids species are found in more than one continent apart from that they have a limited distribution.
- The Chinese mantids, Tenodera aridifolia senensis is the most widespread and abundant species throughout the entire eastern United States. It is known to have the widest global distribution of all mantids.
- The praying mantis is highly terrestrial and it occupies tropical habitats such as dry forests, rainforests, grasslands, primary and secondary forests, and deserts.
- In the temperate regions mantis is known to complete one entire life cycle each season. However in the tropics they may have overlapping generations.
See also: What Do Praying Mantis Eat in the Wild?
- The praying mantis has evolved a quite interesting behavior in that it grooms itself more often than not. Besides, it also cleans its eyes and heads with the help of its forelegs. Later mantis cleans their forelegs with their mouths. It is observed to perform the same procedure with their antennae and middle and hind legs.
- Apart from cleaning its parts, mantis has also adapted several different methods to defend itself against potential predators.
- If they feel threatened mantis will fly or simply run away. If however this doesn’t work and the predator is still there then the mantis would probably thrust out its forelegs, open its mouth or even flashes out the wings.
- Some mantids species have their wings brightly colored the sudden flash of which gives a surprising effect.
- If all the above methods fail, mantis would pretend as a dead (thanatosis) or resort to pinching and biting.
- When the mantis is at rest, it folds its forelegs giving it an attitude of being in prayer.
- If the female mantis is extremely hungry it eats the male.
Feeding ecology and Diet
- Praying mantis is most likely to feed on arthropods. It consumes both herbivorous arthropods and other carnivores such as spiders.
- The mantis feeds on many arthropods that are good for plants. Some of these are bees and butterflies including predators such as spiders and wasps.
- They are known to readily consume arthropods of smaller or equal size.
- Praying mantis feeds on small mice, lizards, frogs, and birds. Hummingbirds that often feed on nectar are likely to be preyed by these praying mantises.
- The adult mantis consumes larger insects such as butterflies while the hatchlings rely on aphids and other insects of similar size.
- Mantids are opportunistic feeders; they employ a motionless tactic to wait for the suitable prey. A very few species will chase down prey.
- Praying mantis has also evolved a cannibalistic behavior in that it consumes each other if the opportunity arises.
- They have unusually large eyes and extraordinary forelegs which allow them to strike the prey in 1/20 of a second.
- The female lays 10 – 200 eggs in several weeks.
- These eggs are protected by a frothy liquid which further hardens the egg.
- Due to the insufficient data we are not able to determine precisely how many praying mantises are left in the wild. One thing is for sure that there are only a few extant species remaining due to global warming, poaching, misuse of pesticides, and habitat destruction.
- The Galapagos Island is home to only one mantids species.
- IUCN has listed only one species Apteromantis aptera as Lower Risk/Near Threatened and it is found in isolated regions of Spain.
Helfer, J. (1963). “How to Know the Grasshoppers, Cockroaches and Their Allies.” Brown, Dubuque, IA. Hurd, L. E., and Eisenberg, R. M. (1990).
Arthropod community responses to manipulation of a bitrophic predator guild. Ecology 76, 2107–2114. Prete, F. R., Wells, H., Wells, P. H., and L. E. Hurd (eds.) (1999). “The Praying Mantids.” Johns Hopkins Press, Baltimore