praying mantis eating dragonfly

What Do Praying Mantis Eat?

The praying mantis is a really fascinating insect to have as a pet, as a lot of kids have been lucky enough to discover. Not only is it intriguing to look at, it is also very easy to take care of. If you are thinking of keeping a praying mantis as a pet, you must ensure it is well taken care of at all times. Part of taking care of a praying mantis is understanding its diet and eating habits.

Praying mantises are carnivorous, which means they eat meat. Most of them are also exclusively predatory, which means that they actively hunt their prey. A praying mantis will capture insects using its front legs and feed on them. Even though insects form the primary diet of a praying mantis,its diet changes as the mantis grows bigger. Large species of mantis have been known to prey on small lizards, frogs, rodents, snakes and even fish. Basically, mantises will eat anything that is smaller than them in size, as this way they are able to capture the prey without struggle.

A praying mantis is very patient when it comes to hunting for prey. In fact, a mantis will wait for hours for prey to come along. It will carefully camouflage itself so that the prey cannot easily spot it and ambush the unsuspecting prey at the opportune moment.

Praying mantises make use of the spikes on their front legs to grasp their prey. Once the prey is captured, the mantis will bite its neck to paralyze it and then devour it. A mantis will start by eating from the insect’s neck, in order to ensure the insect’s struggle ends quickly.

Most predatory insects will liquefy their prey or drain away the body fluids of their prey. However, for a praying mantis the feeding process is different. When a praying mantis catches an insect, it slices and chews it with its mandibles. A mantis will eat the entire insect, leaving only fragments that may have been accidentally severed during the feeding process.

When thinking of how you’ll be feeding your praying mantis, ensure there is selected habitat for the feeding. A cage that has been made to look like a mantis’ natural habitat will be much appreciated by your pet mantis. Don’t forget to regularly release your mantis so it can enjoy the fresh air and fresh diet in your backyard. Of course, keep an eye on it so that it doesn’t run away!

praying mantis facts

Praying Mantis Facts

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.

Anatomy

  • 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.