Praying Mantis

What is a Praying Mantis? The praying mantids, or praying mantises, are carnivorous insects that belong to the family of mantids. There are about 2,000 species of mantids. The biggest praying mantises are the Tenodera and the Archimantis, which are six inches long! The smallest praying mantis is the Bolbe pygmaea, which is only 2/5 of an inch, or one-centimetre.

Unbelievably, some scientists agree the mantis is closely related to the cockroach. The name "mantis" comes from the Greek word for 'prophet' or 'soothsayer.' The Carolina mantid is a common insect of Eastern United States. The European and Chinese species were introduced to the North-eastern United States about 75 years ago as garden predators in hopes of overtaking the native pest population.

Description

Praying mantises are about 2/5-12 inches according to species. Their colors vary, ranging from light greens to pinks. Most mantids are pea green or brown. The tropical flower mantises, which resemble flowers, are usually light colors such as pink. Flower mantises, from Africa or the Far East, so closely resemble flowers that insects will often land on them to get nectar.

Camouflage is very important for the praying mantis’ survival. Because they have so many enemies such as birds, they must blend in with their habitat to avoid being eaten. They have a triangular-shaped head with a large compound eye on each side. Praying mantids are the only insect that turns from side to side in a full 180-degree angle. Their eyes are sensitive to the slightest movement up to 60 feet away. They have straight, leathery forewings and very powerful jaws used for devouring its prey.

They have ultrasound ears on their Metathoraxes. The Metathorax is located on the thorax. Also, the males’ genitalia are asymmetrical. They have a long prothorax and strong, spiny front legs held together in a praying manner. In the bodies of some species of mantis, there is a hollow chamber. Recently it has been discovered that these hollow chambers provide the mantis with a means of detecting bats, one of their most feared predators. Apparently, the mantis in flight will drastically change its flight pattern (often hurling to the ground in a spiral) when the mantis hears certain frequencies of sound.

Housing

As the mantis grows it will shed its skin several times, becoming larger at each stage. Initially a small container such as a yogurt pot will make suitable cage, as the mantis grows it can progress into a jam jar or milk bottle and finally into a sweet jar. The top of the yogurt pot can be covered with clingfilm. A small hole can be made through the clingfilm to allow food to be put in. The hole can be plugged with a piece of sponge which will allow air to enter. A suitable plug can be used in the neck of a bottle, jars should have lids with holes drilled in them. Whatever type of cage is used a stick or branch should be provided for the insect to hang from when it sheds its skin and the distance from the top of the branch to the floor must be at least three times the length of the insect.

Habitat

Nearly 2,000 species of mantids are widely distributed throughout tropical, subtropical, and warm temperate areas of the world. Different species live in many parts of countries such as North and South America, South Africa, Europe, the Southern parts of Asia and some parts of Australia. Praying mantids in North America are usually green or brown. There are three main types of mantids in Eastern United States: the European mantid (Mantis religiosa), Carolina mantid (Stagmomantis carolina) and Chinese mantid (Tenodera aridifolia sinensis).

Diet

The praying mantis is a carnivorous insect that takes up a deceptively humble posture when it is searching for food. When at rest, the mantis’ front forelegs are held up together in a posture that looks like its praying. These front legs are equipped with rows of sharp spines used to grasp its prey. They wait unmoving and are almost invisible on a leaf or a stem, ready to catch any insect that passes. When potential prey comes close enough, the mantis thrusts its pincher-like forelegs forward to catch it. The prey probably won’t escape because the forelegs are so strong and armed with overlapping spines.

The mantid bites the neck of its prey to paralyse it and begins to devour it. The mantis almost always starts eating the insect while it’s still alive, and almost always starts eating from the insect’s neck. This way, the mantis makes sure that the insect’s struggle stops quickly. Praying mantises eat insects and other invertebrates such as other mantises, beetles, butterflies, spiders, crickets, grasshoppers, and even spiders. The praying mantises also eat vertebrates such as small tree frogs, lizards, mice and hummingbirds. Praying mantids can resemble flowers and can catch small, unknowing hummingbirds. Praying mantids also eat other nesting birds.

Breeding

Sexing mantids is difficult when they are small but fairly easy when adult, eight segments can be counted on the underside of the males abdomen and six on that of the female (in some species the end segments are difficult to see and only seven or five may be counted). After two or three weeks as adults the mantids can be mated. Both should be fed as much as they will eat for several days before the male is introduced to the female’s cage. It is advisable to use a large cage for the mating and feeding them well beforehand is essential otherwise the female will eat the male. Mating may occur immediately or it may take the male a day or so to make his approach. Mating may last a day or more so it is a good idea to keep the cage supplied with food so the female can eat while mating. The male should be removed as soon as mating has finished.

The eggs are produced in an eggcase called an ootheca this may produce 30 to 300 young mantids depending on the species. Hatching usually takes between 3 and 6 months. The young may hatch all at once or in batches over a period of several weeks. The ootheca should be suspended at least 5 cm above the floor of the cage. When the young hatch they hang by a thread from the ootheca until their skin hardens off. The female will eat a lot and become very fat before laying an ootheca on a branch or side of the container if she is already fat she may well lay her first ootheca the day after mating. She will lay several oothecae, usually about six, but only needs to be mated once. The young nymphs can be housed together for a time but the cage must be very large with plenty of hiding places and an excess of live food must be provided to prevent cannibalism. The mantids should be housed separately after the second or third moult.

Beneficial or not?

Most often people think mantises are pests. That is only partly true. They can be beneficial, too. Praying mantises are terrific pest exterminators. They keep down the population of bugs that are a threat to farming. A master of disguise, the praying mantis can be an able assistant to farmer and gardener. Look carefully in your backyard. Perhaps that deceptive shape is a praying mantis poised for his next meal.

References

?Insecta Inspecta - Praying Mantis
?P.E.Bragg 1988 - Caresheet 2 , Praying Mantids
?G.Ramel and K.Pitts 1996 - Additional Caresheet 2 , Praying Mantids