Most commonly known as the Praying Mantis, order mantodea
is a group of about 1800 carnivorous insects which prodominatley
live in tropical regions of the earth. Though certain species
can be found in locations with moderate climate. With an
extremely striking appearence, mantids almost have human like
qualities with the ability to hold an erect stance, and arms
that face forward. A very efficient killer, mantids were
created for hunting and killing prey.
Order Mantodea is in the subclass Pterygota. As with all
classifications there can be debates on where certain orders or
species belong. Historically there has been some confusion on
whether Mantodea deserves there own order. Some experts have
placed Mantodea in the dictyoptera order along with cock roaches
(Ramel 1996, Jaques 1981, Phoenix Zoo). Others say mantids
belong in Orthoptera, which consists of grasshoppers. Experts
say this is due to their large pro notum (Stokes 1983, Borror
and White 1970). The emerging consensus around the position of
Mantodea believes Mantodea constitute their own independent
order of insects.
Mantids can be characterized by their triangular head, and
filiform antennae. This head has the ability to turn 180
degrees. With their prominate pair of compound eyes located on
the sides of the head, the mantis can almost see 360 degree’s
around. However the sharpest vision is located in the compound
eye’s center, for the mantis to optimaly see objects it must
turn its head so that the eye is facing the object. These eyes
are extremely sensitive to light, changing from light green or
tan in bright light, to dark brown in the dark.
The prothorax of the mantis is another aid in giving them
their distintive appearence. This prothorax has the ability to
bend and twist which aids in the mantids ability to see close
to 360 degrees around.
The two long “raptorial” front legs are adapted to seize
and hold prey. The coxa connects the tibia which has sharp
spines to firmly hold prey. The femur has matching groves where
the spine on the tibia fold into. This creates a “jack knife”
effect that allows the insect to assume it’s distinctive praying
The other four legs of the mantis are designed for
locomotion. These legs can regenerate if broken, but only in
the molting process. These limbs that regenerate are always
smaller than they were originally. A full grown adult that no
longer molts no longer possess the ability to regenerate limbs.
The front “raptorial” limbs do not regenerate if broken.
Because of their large bulky bodies mantids are fairly
weak flyers. They have four pairs of wings. The first pair are
leathery tegmina wings that lay over the inner pair. The
mambrenous inner pair are folded under the first pair and are
used for flight and to startle enemies.
The large segmented abdomen houses the digestive system
and reproductive organs. The male mantis has 8 segments, and
the females are born with 8 segments as well. But with each
succesive molt in the female the last two segments begin to
overlap resulting with 6 segments left.
Sixty percent of mantid species possess an ultrasonic ear
on the under side of the metathorax, especially those that have
wings. The mantid is an “auditory cyclops”, which means it only
has one ear. The ear is 1mm long with cuticle like knobs at
either end and two ear drums buried inside. The ear is
specially tuned to very high ultrasonic freqeuncies of sound
waves from 25 to 65 kilohertz. Apparently, the ears primary
purpose is designed to respond to the ultrasonic echo-location
signal used by hunting bats.
The mantis primarily uses its ultrasonic ears while in
flight. When a mantis senses a bat’s ultrasonic echo at close
range, it curls it’s abdomen upwards and thrusts its legs
outward creating a drag and resulting in a sudden aerial stall.
This flight manuever of the mantis creates an unpredictable
flight pattern for the bat, and is very effective at avoiding
There are three ways to distinguish between female and
male mantodea. The male has 8 segments, while the female has
The second is size, the female is always bigger than the
male. The third is behavior, the male mantis is more prone to
take flight in search of a mate, while the female often remains
Mantids are extremely predacious feeders, only eating live
prey, or prey that is moving, and hence appears alive. Varying
on the species, you can see what diet preferences are. Some
species only eat “soft bodied bugs”, insects that can be easily
devoured. While some species will eat anything from small birds
Mantids are diurnal, which means they eat primarily during
the day. An attacking mantid “undulates”, and sways just before
a strike. Some experts believe this swaying action mimics the
movement of the surrounding folliage due to gusts of wind.
Others believe this swaying aids in the mantid visually focusing
on the prey. Mantids hunt by the “sit and wait” method or by
the slow stalk method. The “sit and wait” can sometimes take
hours, waiting for an unsuspecting victim to come within an arms
length. The slow stalk method is pretty self explanitory.
Mantids attack by “pinching”, impaling prey between its spiked
lower tibia and upper femur. The mantids strike takes an
amazing 30 to 50 one-thousanth of a second. The strike is so
fast it can’t be proccessed by the human brain. Once the prey
is secured with its legs the mantid chews at the preys neck. If
well fed, the mantid will selectively choose to eat certain
parts of its prey and discard the rest. If any part of the prey
is dropped while feeding the mantis will not retrieve it. After
feeding, they will often use their mouth to clean the food
particles from the spines of it’s tibia, and then wipe their
face clean similar to cats.
The cannibalistic instincts of mantids are probably what
give order mantodea a reputation for being such cold hearted
killers. All stages of growth partake in cannibalistic
activities, from nymph to adult, whether adult eats nymph or
nymph eats nymph. After mating the female will often eat her
mate. Between 5-31% of males get devoured during the mating
process. A female mantis already heavy with eggs will excrete a
chemical attractant to tempt a willing male into mating. The
horny and always willing male will almost always get sucked in.
The males sperm cells are stored in the spermatheca of the
female. The female can begin to lay her eggs as early as the
day after fertilization. As the eggs pass through her
reproductive system, they are fertilized by the stored sperm.
After finding a raised location, like a branch or stem, special
appendages at the base of the abdomen (ventral valve maybe)
create a gelatinous egg material into the shape characteristic
of the particular species as it exits her ovipositor.
The egg laying process takes 3 to 5 hours long. By
instinct the female twists her abdomen in a spiral motion to
create chambers within the ootheca. The egg case then hardens
into a paper mache like substance that is resistant to pests who
would try and eat it. There are small air pockets between each
cell of the ootheca which aids in insulation against cold
winters. There can be anywhere from 30 to 300 eggs laid in a
sitting. Often times the female dies after her final birthing.
The life-cycle of the North American mantid species runs
from spring to fall. When spring time temperatures become
favorable the mantid nymphs emerge from the ootheca. They drop
towards the ground on a thin strand of stringy material produced
by a special gland in their body. Mantid nymphs are
hemimetabolous. Mantid nymphs appear like small adults, but
without fully-formed wings. Nymphs go through 6 to 7 molts
before they reach adulthood. Emerging nymphs feed on whatever
small insects they can get their claws on, including their
brothers and sisters.
The primary enemies to mantids are spiders, birds, snakes,
mammals(especially bats), and man. The mantis has four primary
methods for defense. The mantids green and brown exo-skeleton
color help aid in camouflage. The mantids ability to stand
perfectly still for extremely long periods of time cause it to
be over looked by predators. When confronted by an enemy the
mantis asumes the “startle display”, rearing it’s fore legs up
and spread apart, and rattling its wings. The ultrasonic ear is
also a form of defense for the mantis.
Insect Pest Management or IPM is a subject of research
that is really starting to take notice throughout the world.
It’s becoming apparent that the over use of chemical pesticides
is ruining our Earths ecology. Finding alternative methods of
pest control besides the use of pesticides is imperative if we
expect to keep this planet in good condition. Numerous cases of
IPM have been initiated and have proved to work. The praying
mantis plays an important role in nature’s insect pest control
plan. The praying mantis is one of the few predators with that
are fast enough to catch mosquitos and flies while their in
flight. Moth populations are also controlled by mantids.
There are three common species of mantids found in North
America. The European mantis (Mantis religiosa), the Chinese
mantis (Tenodera aridifolia sinesis), and the Carolina mantis
The European mantis is usually 2-3 inches in length, and
has a consistently bright green color. These are distinguished
as the only of the three species that bear a black-ringed spot
beneath the fore coxae. The European mantids are most often
found east of The Mississippi River. It is said that the
European mantids were first introduced into North America in
Rochester New York in 1899 on a shipment of nursery plants.
The Chinese mantis is the largest of the three native to
North America reaching lengths up to five inches. This species
is mostly light brown with a dull green trim around its wings.
The Chinese mantis can be found throughout the United States.
The Chinese mantis arrived in 1895 on nursery stock sent to
The Carolina mantis is the smallest of the three never
reaching a length greater than 2 inches. This mantis has a
dusky brown or gray color to blend in with the pine forests and
and sandhills of Southeastern part of the U.S. An interesting
feature of the Carolina mantis is that the wings which only
extend 3/4 of the way down the abdomen.
There are many myths and legneds asscociated with mantids.
For thousands of years they have captured our imagination, and
curiosity. The word mantis comes from ancient greece and means
“diviner” or “prohpet”. Many cultures have credited the mantid
with a variety of magical qualities. In the southern portion of
the U.S. it is believed that if the brown saliva of a mantis
ever comes in with you, you’ll go blind. This mystical
saliva also has the potential to kill a horse.
In France it is believed that if a lost child is ever in
the woods and can’t find his way home the praying stance of the
mantid will direct them toward safety. The Turks and Arabs
believe the mantid always prays toward Mecca. During the
European Middle-ages it was thought that the mantis was a great
worshiper of god due to the great amounts of time spent in
prayer. In China it is believed that the roasted egg cases of
mantids will cure bed wetting in people. In Africa, if a mantid
ever lands on someone it will bring that person good luck. It
is also believed that the mantis possess the power to bring the
dead back to life.
Type in praying mantis on most any search engines and
you’ll be able to find numerous amounts of info. But 80% of
most of these praying mantis sites are all related to the
praying mantis style of kung-fu. To find any decsent info on
the praying mantis, you must type in the latin name.
Many legends are told about the origins of praying mantis
kung-fu. There is no disputing the fact that Wang Lang invented
Plum Blossom Praying Mantis Bo. The one legend that seems
to be found at most web-sites describing the history of Praying
Mantis Kungfu is the one about Wang Lang’s hiking trip through
the Lao Shan mountains of China. After a recent devasting loss
in a kungfu fight Wang needed some time to himself. While
resting on a log he noticed two mantids fighting. Their
quickness, patience, and flexibility intrigued Wang. Using
those same ideas, and techniques used by the mantids he
developed praying mantis kungfu.
1). Profotilov, Hya. History of Praying Mantis Kungfu,
2). Watkins, Gary. Praying Mantids,
3). The Care of Mantids, www.insect-world.com/main/mantids.html
4). Bragg, Phil. Praying mantis Care Notes,
5). Johnson, Sylvia. Mantises, Minneapolis: Lerner Publications
6). Hess, Lilo. The praying Mantis: Insect Cannibal, New York:
Charles Scribner and Sons, 1971.
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