The mantis is an insect best known for its prayer-like posture. Sometimes confused with its close relative, the grasshopper, the mantis is a very interesting insect. Below we look at some of the features that make it so unique among the millions of insect species in the world.
- Not all mantises are winged. Depending on the nature and presence of their wings, mantises can be classified into apterous (wingless), micropterous (with vestigial wings), brachypterous (short winged) and macropterous (long winged).
- Other than flying, wings in mantises are also used to scare away predators and in makes, to attract females.
- Their two forelegs legs have spines by which prey is caught and securely held.
- The prothorax, the part of the body containing the head and forelegs, is highly flexible which allows the insect to move its forelegs and head in a wide range of movements while the rest of the body remains immobile.
- The neck is extremely flexible and in some species, the neck has been observed to rotate through an angle of up to 180 degrees.
- Praying mantises can see up to a distance of 20 meters. Their compound eyes are widely spaced and found at the sides of their faces so as to allow for a wide range of vision.
- Since bats are one of their biggest predators, mantises are equipped with an auditory thoracic organ. This organ detects the high pitched sound bats produce for echolocation and immediately respond evasively.
Behavior (Feeding & Defense)
- Most mantises tend to feed during the day (diurnal) as this is when they can take advantage of their vision. However, they can also fly at night and will be attracted to any artificial lights nearby.
- The primary prey of a mantis is insects and so they make up a large part of its diet. When young, a mantis feeds on small insects and sometimes can also eat its own siblings. As it grows bigger, it needs larger insects to survive. In full adulthood the diet may vary and can consists of small snakes, rodents, birds, lizards and scorpions.
- Most mantises hunt by ambush. They can stand still at a spot, well camouflaged, for a long period of time awaiting prey. Other species tend to pursue their prey.
- When caught, prey is held in the spiked legs of the mantis. The prey is usually eaten live if it does not resist but if it does, then the mantis will eat off the head first.
- After finishing a meal, the only remnants left behind are those that were accidentally dropped. Otherwise, a mantis is capable of eating everything.
- The major form of defense in mantises is hiding and camouflage. They also threaten their predators by standing tall and spreading their forelegs with their wings fanned out. This makes the mantis appear larger and more intimidating.
- Mantises are capable of producing sound especially when threatened. The hissing sound is used to scare away enemies.
- As for camouflage, they will develop wing colors to blend in perfectly with the vegetation in the region of their habitat. Some species have become so good at camouflage that they can even mimic vegetation by turning into shapes and colors that resemble withered leaves or dry barks.
- If you get bitten or slashed by a mantis, do not worry, it contains no venom at all.
Reproduction & Life Cycle
- Many mantis species display what is referred to as sexual cannibalism. This is where the female eats the male after mating. The feeding usually begins by biting off the head of the male. Due to this phenomena, it has been observed that hungry females are approached by less male mantises as compared to satiated ones due to fear of being cannibalized.
- The female lays between ten and four hundred eggs which come out in a frothy mass which then hardens to form a protective capsule around the eggs.
- Like most insects, the lifecycle of a mantis consists of egg, nymph then adult. The major difference between a nymph and an adult is the lack of wings and functional genitalia.
- The general lifespan of a mantis is between 10 to 12 months.
Interestingly enough, mantises can be used to control pests. In some parts of the world, there are thriving businesses that sell mantis eggs. These eggs hatch into nymphs which tend to have a huge appetite. Thus, they will eat any and all insects they can find including those that are harmful to plant growth.