Praying mantis “Praying Mantis” is the name commonly used in English speaking countries to refer to a large, much elongated, slow-moving insect with fore legs fitted for seizing and holding insect prey.
The name, “Praying Mantis” more properly refers to the specific Mantid species Mantis Religiosa or the European Mantis, but typically is used more generally to refer to any of the mantid family.
The name is derived from the prayer-like position in which the insect holds its long, jointed front legs while at rest or waiting for prey. It is also called the “preying” mantis because of its predatory nature.
Many questions have arisen regarding the praying mantis. Such questions include how many different species there are in the animal kingdom. Estimates range from 1500 to 2200 different mantid species WORLDWIDE.
The most common figure given, though, is about 1800. The ways the Mantid’s are classified in the Animal Kingdom. There is an agreement that the collection of mantid species make up the Mantidae family of insects.
The Mantidae family, in turn, is part of the order/suborder Mantodea that includes a variety of mantid-like species. But the existing literature does not reflect a clear consensus about what insect order Mantodea belongs in.
Some have placed Mantodea in the Dictyoptera Order-with the roaches. Others place Mantodea in the Orthoptera Order-with crickets and grasshoppers. Finally, some believe that Mantodea constitutes their own independent order of insects. There seems to be an emerging consensus around this position.
The Mantis Religiosa was first named such and classified by the inventor of the modern system of biological taxonomy Carolus Linnaeus. The three common species of mantids in North America are the European mantis (Mantis religiosa), the Chinese mantis (Tenodera aridifolia sinensis), and the Carolina mantis (Stagmomantis carolina) distinguishing features of these three species:
The Chinese mantis is the largest of the three, reaching lengths of three to five inches. The European mantis, however, is a little smaller than the Chinese variety and it only reaches lengths of two to three inches. And finally, the Carolina mantis is the smallest of the three usually less than two inches in length.
The Chinese mantis is mostly light brown with dull green trim around its wings. The European mantis is more consistently bright green in color. The Carolina mantis is a dusky brown or gray color, perhaps to blend in with the pine forests and sandhills of its native South.
The best way to distinguish the three species is by the shape of their egg cases or ootheca. The egg case of the Chinese mantis is roughly ball-shaped but has a flattened area on one side. The European mantid’s egg case is rounded without this “flat portion” The Carolina mantis has an egg case that looks like a short elongated tube, often spread out along a portion of twig or stem.
Range The Chinese mantis can be found throughout the United States. The European mantis is most common east of the Mississippi. And the Carolina mantis makes its home in the Southeastern part of the U.S.
Other Physical Characteristics
One of the most notable features of the Carolina mantis is that their wings only extend about 3/4 of the way down the abdomen. Markings The European mantis is also distinguished as the only of three species that bears a black-ringed spot beneath its fore coxae.
The Carolina mantis is one of 20 mantid species native to North America. The European and Chinese mantids were introduced to America around the turn of the century.
The European mantis is said to have first been brought to Rochester New York in 1899 on a shipment of nursery plants. The Chinese mantis arrived in 1895, from China (duh), on nursery stock sent to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Key features of mantid physiology include a triangular head with large compound eyes, two long, thin antennae, and a collection of sharp mouthparts designed for devouring live prey.
Because of its compound eye, the mantid’s eyesight is very good. However, the sharpest vision is located in the compound eye’s center so the mantis must rotate its head and look directly at an object for optimum viewing.
Fortunately, the mantis can also rotate its head 180 degrees to see prey or approaching threats, the mantis can scan a total of 300 degrees. The mantid’s eyes are very sensitive to light, changing from light green or tan in bright light, to dark brown in the dark.
An elongated prothorax or neck helps gives the mantis its distinctive appearance. The prothorax is also quite flexible, turning and bending easily which aids in its locating and seizing of prey. Two long, “raptorial” front legs are adapted to seize and hold prey. These legs have three parts:
1. The lower part of the legs or tibia have sharp spines to firmly grasp prey
2. These spines “fold-up” into matching grooves in the upper femur, creating a “jackknife” effect that allows the insect to assume its distinctive “praying” position.
3. Finally, the upper coxa functions like a shoulder to connect the femur and tibia to the mantid’s body.
4. Four other long, thin legs designed for climbing and movement. These legs regenerate if broken or lost, but only during the molting process, but unfortunately, limbs that regenerate are often smaller than the others.
Since a full-grown adult no longer molts, he or she cannot replace lost limbs. The front “raptorial” legs do not regenerate and if a mantis loses one of them it will not survive
5. Two pairs of wings that fold neatly against its abdomen when not in use. A front set of leathery tegmina wings that overlay and protect the ‘inner’ wings. Back wings used for flight and to “startle” enemies
6. A large, segmented abdomen that contains the mantid’s digestive system and reproductive organs. The male has 8 abdominal segments. The female is born with 8 segments, but with each successive molting, the 6th segment gradually overlaps the 7th and 8th until 6 segments remain at the adult stage
7. 60% of mantid species–especially those that have wings–also have an “ultrasonic ear” on the underside of their metathorax The mantid is an auditory cyclops, unique in the animal kingdom. That is, it has only a single ear. The ear is made of a deep, 1 mm long slit with cuticle-like knobs at both ends and two eardrums buried inside.
The ear is specially tuned to very high “ultrasonic” frequencies of sound–25 to 60 kilohertz. Apparently, the ear is designed to primarily respond to the ultrasonic echolocation signal emitted by hunting bats. The mantis primarily uses its ultrasonic ear while in flight. When a relatively slow-flying mantis sense a bat’s ultrasonic echo at close range, it curls its abdomen upwards and thrusts its legs outward creating drag and resulting in a sudden aerial “stall”.
The mantid in-flight maneuver creates an inherently unpredictable flight pattern-sometimes looping up and around, banking left or right, or a sudden spiral towards the ground. This tactic is apparently very effective for avoiding a hungry bat’s attack
Abdominal Structure-the female mantis has 6 segments. The male 8 segments. Size-the female mantis is usually larger than the male Behavior-the male mantis is more prone to take flight in search of a mate while the female often remains more stationary
DIET & COMBAT STYLE
Basically, the praying mantis is extremely predacious ESPECIALLY the female. The mantid eats only live prey or at least prey that is moving, and hence, appears alive. Some might go as far as saying that the praying mantis will eat “anything,” even reptiles and small birds, but others indicate it prefers “soft-bodied” insects which it can easily devour.
These dietary preferences vary by species. Males are generally less aggressive predators than females. Cannibalistic behavior is present in the mantid, both as a nymph and as an adult. Baby mantids will eat other babies, adults will eat their own or others’ babies, and adults will eat each other. Mantids are diurnal, that is, mainly eats during the day.
But mantids also congregate and feed around artificial light sources. Mantids usually wait motionless for unsuspecting prey to get within striking distance–a “sit-and wait” and wait or ambush strategy, but can also slowly stalk prey. The mantid often begins to undulate and sway just before striking its prey. Some have speculated this is to mimic the movement of surrounding foliage. Others suggest that this behavior aids in the visualization process.
They attack by “pinching” and impaling prey between its spiked lower tibia and upper femur. The mantid’s strike takes an amazing 30 to 50 one-thousandth of a second. The strike is so fast that it cannot be processed by the human brain. It uses the view before and after the strike and “tricks” you into seeing what occurs in-between.
After securing the prey with its legs, rapidly chews at the prey’s neck to immobilize it. If well-fed, mantids will selectively choose to devour “select” parts of their prey and discard the rest. If any part of the prey is dropped during feeding, the mantid will not retrieve it. After eating, will often use its mouth to clean the food particles from the spines of its tibia, and then wipe its face in a cat-like manner.
One of the most interesting, and to humans, disturbing features of mantid life is the female’s tendency to eat her mate. During late summer, a female mantis, already heavy with eggs, is believed to excrete a chemical attractant to tempt a willing male into mating.
The current state of research seems to indicate that the female sometimes devours the male during the mating process (between 5-31% of the time) The dead male may also serve as a source of protein for the female and her young. Recent research indicates that fertilization can take place without the male’s death and that his demise is not necessary to the process.
The male’s sperm cells are stored in a special chamber in the female’s abdomen called the spermatheca. The female can begin laying her eggs as early as a day after the mating. As the eggs pass through her reproductive system, they are fertilized by the stored sperm. After finding a suitably raised location–a branch, stem, or building overhang–special appendages at the base of her abdomen “froth” the gelatinous egg material into the shape characteristic of the particular species as its exits her ovipositor. By instinct, the female twists her abdomen in a spiral motion to create many individual “cells” or chambers within the ootheca or egg case.
The egg-laying process takes between 3 and 5 hours. The ootheca soon hardens into a paper mache-like substance that is resistant to the birds and animals that would attempt to eat it. The carefully crafted pockets of air between the individual egg cells act as insulation against cold winter temperatures. The number and size of egg cases deposited by a female also varies by species and she dies sometime after her final birthing
GROWTH & DEVELOPMENT
The life-cycle of North American mantid species runs from spring to fall. When springtime temperatures become sufficiently warm, the mantid nymphs emerge from the ootheca. They drop toward the earth on thin strands of stringy material produced by a special gland in their body–often descending in a writhing mass-before breaking free to live solitary lives.
Mantid nymphs are hemimetabolous (did I spell that right)-that is, they undergo only a partial metamorphosis from nymph to adult stage. Mantid nymphs appear like small adults (about 3/8′ long) except that their wings are not fully formed. The nymphs go through a series of 6-7 molts-the casting off of the outer layer of skin-before reaching their adult form.
When molting, the nymphs attach their “old,” loose skin to a stick or rough surface with a secreted glue-like substance, chews an opening in it, creates a split or tear on top of the thorax, and down the back, and then wriggles free. The mantid’s leg casings do not split open, and many nymphs die when unable to fully kick free of their old skin. Young mantids feed on whatever small insects they can find including each other. The mantids continue to grow until the time for mating comes in late summer, and then the whole process begins again.
SELF-DEFENSE The mantid primary enemies are birds, mammals (especially bats), spiders, snakes, and, of course, man. The mantid has four primary defense mechanisms against those who would prey on it. Camouflage-the mantid’s brown and green color allows it to blend in with surrounding foliage. Stealth-the mantid’s ability to stay perfectly still for long periods of time causes it to be overlooked by many would-be predators.
Startle-display-when confronted by an enemy the mantid can rear up in its hand legs and spread and rattle its wing in an act of intimidation. Ultrasonic ear-used when encountering bats in flight. Unfortunately, the mantid has no defense against pesticides which it ingests through its prey. Incidentally, there is a form of martial art called Praying Mantis Kung-Fu Please refer to the section entitles Praying Mantis Kung-Fu at the end of the document for more information
The word “mantis” comes from ancient Greece and means “diviner” or “prophet”. Many cultures have credited the mantid with a variety of magical qualities: France-French peasants state that If a child is lost, the mantids praying-stance points the way home. Turkey & Arabia-The mantid always prays toward Mecca. Southern U.S.-The brown saliva of the mantid will make a man go blind or kill a horse. 4.
China-Roasted mantid egg cases will cure bedwetting. Africa-If a mantid lands on a person it brings them good luck and A mantid can bring the dead back to life. European Middle-Ages-The mantis was a great worshipper of God due to its time spent in prayer. Perhaps the best measure of the hold mantids have on our cultural imagination is the fact they are almost surely prominently pictured on any book about insects intended for a popular audience interesting and common names that the Praying Mantis has been commonly acquainted with:
1. Sooth-sayers-(England)-from the Greek roots of the word “mantis”-meaning “prophet.”
2. Devil’s Rearhorses, Devil horses (Southern U.S.)-from the mantid’s tendency to rear up on its hind legs when threatened.
3. Mulekillers (Southern U.S.)-from the (false) belief that the brown saliva emitted by a mantis will kill a mule.