Mantids

©Getty Images

©Getty Images

Praying mantises, or praying mantids, are carnivorous (meat -eating) insects.

There are about 2,000 different species (kinds) of mantids. The biggest are over 15 cm long and the smallest are about 1 cm long.

Mantids are found in warm to hot places in most continents of the world. The insect gets its name from the way it holds its front forelegs up as though it is praying.

A mantid with its wings open ©Getty Images

A mantid with its wings open ©Getty Images

Body

The front legs of the praying mantis have rows of sharp spines which are used to grip prey.  Mantids have a triangular shaped head with a large eye on each side that can see the slightest movement up to 35metres away. It is the only insect that can turn its head 180º, or a half circle. It has excellent hearing.

Mantids have straight leathery wings and powerful jaws. Mantids fly mostly at night.

You can see how the dead leaf mantis got its name. ©Getty Images

You can see how the dead leaf mantis got its name. ©Getty Images

Defence

Mantids depend on camouflage for their survival. They can change colour to match their environment.  There are many predators, including birds, that they must hide from.

Most kinds of mantid have a hollow space inside their bodies, which helps them hear the high-pitched sounds that bats make. Bats are one of their main predators. 

Mantid eating prey ©Getty Images

Mantid eating prey ©Getty Images

Food

The mantid stays motionless on a leaf or stem, well camouflaged as it waits for prey. It grabs the prey with its strong front legs, bites the head off and eats it.  

Mantids eat beetles, spiders, grasshoppers, crickets, small vertebrates such as tree frogs, lizards and mice. They also eat other mantids!

A mantid egg case. ©Getty Images

A mantid egg case. ©Getty Images

Life Cycle

After mating with a male, a female mantid lays groups of 14-100 eggs, in a froth that hardens to protect the eggs through the winter. Unlike some other insects, mantids have just three stages: egg, nymph, adult. Nymphs look like the adults, but do not have wings.

The baby mantids, called nymphs, hatch in the spring. Often their first meal is one of the other young just hatching.  Nymphs eat leafhoppers, aphids or small flies. All through the summer they shed their skin many times as they grow into adults, to reveal a new, larger skin underneath. This is called moulting, and they do it because their skin doesn't grow.

Pest?

Although some people think praying mantises are pests, they do actually keep down the number of other insects in the garden or farm, often the ones that do harm to plants and crops.

Read more about mantids: