The "Praying Mantis" is truly a most remarkable creature with a striking appearance and curious habits. They do not bite humans, damage household furnishings, nor spread disease. However, when handled, their spiny-like forelegs can be readily felt as a "sharp pinch." Mantids are most commonly seen in late September and early October either resting on a plant or "fluttering" through the air, sometimes mistaken for a hummingbird. Some appear to resemble leaves or flowers in shape and color.
The common name comes from the manner in which they hold up the forepart of the body, with its enormous front legs, as though in an attitude of prayer. They might also be called "preying mantes" for they are carnivorous, eating other insects. The body is elongate with the front legs modified into prominent grasping organs that catch and hold prey. The wings are well developed, but mantids commonly remain quiet in one place until another insect comes into reach. However, they sometimes cautiously stalk their prey.
Most species are quite large, some over 3 to 4 inches long. The body is tannish-brown with the longitudinal forewing's outer margins edged in a pea green color. The forelegs are modified to close like a knife blade back against its handle (pocket knife-like). Prey are held securely between these serrated, spiny forelegs.
Life Cycle and Habits
One generation develops each season. In the autumn, females lay eggs in a large mass or cluster (an inch or so long), in a frothy, gummy substance glued to tree twigs, plant stems and other objects. Overwintering occurs in the egg stage in this case. Tiny nymphs emerge from the egg mass in the spring or early summer.
The space involved and the time required in rearing food material are the most difficult aspects of mantid rearing. Mantids are among the more difficult of insects to rear. They are carnivorous, feeding in nature on smaller insects and other small animals. Rearing mantids requires rearing of other insects - such as vinegar flies or aphids - as food material (in large quantities)!
Small developing nymphs tend to become cannibalistic and require separation or isolation in the later stages. Adults will mate readily in captivity.
After mantids have completed their early stages, they may be fed insects larger than aphids and vinegar flies such as mosquitoes, flies, and roaches. Mature Chinese mantids readily attack, kill, and devour large crickets and grasshoppers. Some people like to watch the capture of this prey. Others like to collect adult mantids (especially females full of eggs), then place them in a large glass container (empty fish aquarium) and watch egg masses being glued to an inserted tree branch. After egg laying, mantid death usually occurs a few weeks later.
Egg masses, collected in September or October and brought into the warm classroom, have been known to hatch in early December of the same year. Then, large numbers of very tiny mantids will suddenly appear and, if not furnished fresh, live food, they will eat each other until only one or a few mantids are left. In the laboratory, the egg mass may be refrigerated for a few weeks, and then incubated at room temperature. Often, no refrigeration appears necessary.
The mantid is the only predator which feeds at night on moths (most moths are active only after darkness) and the only predator fast enough to catch mosquitoes and flies. Since mantids are quite large and more visible than most beneficial insects, they are "fun" to watch, and children are fascinated to see a Praying Mantis grasp its prey.
For best pest control, commercial suppliers recommend using 3 egg cases for under 5,000 sq. ft.
According to Larry Dane Brimner in his book, Praying Mantises, there are about 1800 different kinds of mantids. At first they were thought to be related to cockroaches and other people thought they were more like grasshoppers. Most entomologists now agree that Mantids are their own species.
A praying mantis will shed its skin (molt) anywhere from six to nine times during its growth. A nymph, a baby mantis that has just hatched, will shed its birth sac as its very firt molting.
Mantids have only one ear that it often uses to listen for bats. Bats are predators to mantids.
Finally, but most interesting, is that the praying mantis is the ONLY insect that can turn its head over its shoulders to see potential prey or enemies.
This photo is of a newly hatched mantis (only an hour or two old).
Here is a picture of mantids that are several hours old. The egg case was kept in this container with a moist cotton swab for added humidity. The container was kept at outside temperatures ranging from about 70 to 90 degrees. Just after I took this picture, I gradually released the mantids around the property in shaded areas away from ants and spiders who could easily find them tasty at this stage!
A predatory insect that, appearing prayerful, is ever on the ready to strike out, capture, and devour both good or bad insects within reach. Have been known to supplement their diet with lizards, tree frogs, mice and even hummingbirds.