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Praying Mantids (Order: Mantodea)

A photograph of a Praying Mantis (_Hierodula patellifera_)

A Praying Mantis (Hierodula patellifera) in typical 'praying' posture.
Photograph by OpenCage licensed under Creative Commons.

Introduction

Praying Mantids get their common name from the stance they commonly adopt. The fore legs are raised as if in the act of prayer, the name mantis is also derived from the Greek word for prophet. Of course, the legs are actually raised so that they can be used to grasp any prey that strays close to the mantis.

They have voracious appetites and for this reason they are sometimes, incorrectly, called "Preying Mantids". Mantids will eat prey of a similar size to themselves and bigger species will eat vertebrates including mice, lizards and frogs.

Mantids first appeared in the fossil record roughly 35 million years ago and they are related to cockroaches and, more distantly, the grasshoppers and crickets.

Roughly 2300 species of Praying Mantis have been described and 18 species can be found in southern and central Europe but none are found in Great Britain.

Main characteristics of Praying Mantids

Mantids are medium to large insects (10 - 200mm) with large raptorial (adapted for the seizing prey) fore legs. The fore legs have rows of spines along the femur and tibia and these are used to grasp prey rather like closing the blade of a pen-knife.

Mantids have a very mobile head that is triangular in shape. They have two very large compound eyes. The fore wings are leathery and, at rest, lie over the top of membranous hind wings to protect them. Not all species of mantis can fly but, those that do, are good fliers and are often attracted to lights at night.

It is often difficult to differentiate male and female mantids and usually this can only be done by counting the number of abdominal segments of adults. In most species eight segments can be counted on the underside of the abdomen of a male 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).

Life-history

Female mantids lay a large egg mass called an ootheca. The ootheca has a honey-comb like structure and is frothy when first laid but quickly hardens. Ootheca are usually attached to twigs and branches or, in some species, laid under rocks and stones.

Mantids undergo incomplete metamorphosis and the nymphs look like small versions of the adults. The wings only appear at the final moult.

It is commonly believed that female mantids devour their mate during copulation. However, studies have suggested that this behaviour is not commonly observed in the wild and may be caused by artificial conditions experienced by captive mantids.

The average lifespan for praying mantids is twelve months but, in captivity, they can live longer. There is a Praying Mantid Caresheet available on this site.

A photograph of Praying Mantis ootheca attached to a stick.

A photograph of Praying Mantis ootheca attached to a stick.
Photograph by Kropsoq, used under GFDL

Classification

At one time the mantids were considered to be part of the Order: Orthoptera (Grasshoppers and Crickets) but have since been classified as a separate Order called Mantodea. The Order Mantodea contains eight families of which the largest is the Mantidae.

How to find them

Eighteen species can be found in southern and central Europe but none are found in Great Britain. Mantids are often cryptically camouflaged and can be hard to spot in foliage. Perhaps the best way to see mantids is to look for them near outside lights at night. They are attracted to lights and often sit close-by feeding on moths and other insects.

Related links: Praying Mantids (Order: Mantodea)

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