10 Cool things about the praying mantis

1. Tropical bug

The praying mantis is an insect found in warm climates across the world. There are over 2,400 species of mantises. They are often confused with stick or leaf insects because of their raptorial forelegs. (photo above: yzoa)

2. Listen to this…

Praying mantises have two large compound eyes with a visual range of up to 20m. Interestingly enough, they only have one ear, located on their bellies just in front of their hind legs. This means they cannot distinguish between the direction of sound or frequency, and can only rely on detecting ultrasound.

3. Prancing about

Praying mantises have triangular heads, are green or brown in colour and are usually about 5 to 7cm long. Because of their colour, they are very difficult to locate, easily camouflaged among plants and bushes. A mantis has two sets of wings – outer wings used for camouflage and hind wings used for flying, although the wings are mostly erected for alarming enemies and attracting females. Females are typically larger than males, have shorter wings and rarely fly. (photo: Florian Andronache)

4. Siblings of a different kind

While they might seem very different, it is believed that mantises, termites and cockroaches are descended from a common ancestor.

5. Strange but true

There are a wide variety of insects and arachnids known for their cannibalism during mating, such as the orb-web spider. Female praying mantises also list among these, sometimes eating their male partners after or even during mating. Don’t worry though, according to scientists it’s a rare thing for mantises to do and usually only occurs less than 30% of the time

6. Unique party trick

Did you know that praying mantises have the ability to turn their heads 180 degrees in order to scan their surroundings? Their prothorax (the first section of the thorax which supports the first pair of legs) is very flexible and this allows for a wide range of movement of the head and forelimbs. (photo: tea maeklong)

7. Praying stance

Ever wondered why they are called ‘praying’ mantises? This is because their prominent spiked front legs are bent and held together at an angle (similar to a praying person’s hands). Mantises mostly ambush or stalk their prey, swiftly extending their spiky front legs, grabbing their prey in a grip hold. They consume their prey alive and will occasionally feed on other insects, although this varies according to different species. Larger species of mantises, for example, have been known to devour anything from small lizards to frogs. ­

8. From egg to adult in less than a year

The female mantis will lay between 10 and 400 eggs in an egg casing made of a frothy substance. This substance will then harden to form a protective case for the eggs. This egg case is called an ootheca. The ootheca can be wrapped around a stem or latched onto a flat surface. Mantises go through three stages of development – egg, nymph and adult. Nymphs are baby versions of adult mantises, only without wings. An adult’s lifespan is between 10 and 12 months. (photo: Cathy Keifer)

9. Mantis in mythology

In the Khoi and San traditions the mantis is spoken of as a god.

10. Now you see me, now you don’t

Praying mantises are experts at camouflaging themselves. Using protective colouration, they blend in with their surroundings to avoid predators and to ambush their prey. Some species have even adapted to mimic leaves, twigs, flowers or blades of grass. When praying mantises feel threatened, they will stand on their hind legs and spread their front legs to scare predators off. They will even go so far as to strike them with their front legs, biting and pinching. (photo: Laura C. Walthers)

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