Praying Mantids (Mantises)

The praying mantis, or mantid, comes from the order Mantodea which actually includes over 2000 different insects. There are three species of praying mantises common to the United States: The Carolina Mantid, the European Mantid, and the Chinese Mantid. The insect gets its name from the way it holds it front legs folded up under its head, resembling a prayer position.

Praying Mantis

Praying mantises mate in the fall, after which the female generally eats the male before laying her eggs in a protective egg case. The eggs overwinter inside the egg case and 200 or more nymph mantises will emerge in the spring. The nymphs are identical, tiny versions of the adult mantis. It takes most of the spring and summer for the nymph to grow into the adult size. Many of the nymphs will not survive long past the opening of the egg case, as they become food for their brothers and sisters.

Praying mantises come in a range of colors including light brown, dark brown, grayish, and the more common green. They tend to live on plants that are the same color as their bodies, camouflaging themselves among the leaves. This camouflage allows the praying mantis to stalk its prey, getting close enough to strike out with its front legs and grasp the other insect.

Praying mantises are generally considered beneficial insects because they devour many other insects. However, unlike more specialized beneficial insects, praying mantises are equal opportunity predators and will happily consume annoying insects like flies, fruit flies, crickets, mosquitoes, grasshoppers, and moths, but will also consume ladybugs, butterflies, and any other insect the same size or smaller that happens to get within its reach.

Interestingly, the praying mantis is the only one of the beneficial insects that feeds at night, making them especially well suited to controlling moth populations. Although they appear to be lumbering, they are also the only predatory insect fast enough to catch mosquitoes and flies.

Praying mantises are phenomenal hunters. They have five eyes, including two compound eyes and three simple eyes. The compound eyes see form and color, while the simple eyes distinguish between light and dark. They can see prey up to 60 feet away and can turn their heads 180 degrees over their shoulders. These attributes help praying mantises successfully catch their prey about 85 percent of the time.

Praying mantis egg cases can be purchased online and at many garden centers. The cases can also be identified and collected in the winter. Egg cases that are attached to walls cannot be removed without damaging them, but egg cases attached to branches and twigs can be removed and placed in the garden to hatch.

To attract mantises or keep purchased mantises from moving on to another area, they need to have an attractive habitat. Flowering shrubs including rosemary and hazel shrubs as well as pine trees and maple trees provide a good habitat for praying mantises.

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University of Kentucky Entomology: Praying Mantids
Ohio State University Extension Factsheet: Praying Mantis
The University of Arizona Center for Insect Science Education Outreach: Praying Mantid Information
Cornell Cooperative Extension of Oneida County: Praying Mantis

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