"mantis" means "a diviner"
Mantises can be distinguished
from all other insects by the triangular-shaped
head that can be rotated a full 180 degrees, and
by armlike forelegs with sharp hooks. The first
segment behind the head (called a prothorax)
is long and thin and held almost erect. The rest
of the body is thicker, but still long and
slender. The males of most species have short,
broad wings, while most females have either
reduced wings or no wings at all.
Most mantises have two
large, compound eyes that work together to help
it decipher visual cues, but only one ear,
located on the underside of its belly, just
forward of its hind legs. This means that the
mantis cannot determine the direction or
frequency of sound. It can, however, detect
ultrasound, meaning that it can avoid animals
that locate prey using echolocation (like bats).
Not all mantids have an ear, and those that don't
are typically flightless, so they don't have to
flee flying echolocaters.
Almost all mantises are camouflaged to blend
into the vegetation in which they live. Mantises
range in size from about an inch to about five
inches in length.
All mantises are predatory, with the most
common hunting strategy being to wait motionless
for prey to venture within striking distance;
some mantises, however, stalk their prey. If a
bee or fly happens to land within its reach, the
praying mantis will extend its arms with
lightning quick speed and grab the hapless
insect. Sharp spines line the mantid's forelegs,
enabling it to grasp the prey tightly as it eats.
Mantises will take just about anything they can
catch, including other mantises, and some larger
species will even catch and eat lizards, frogs,
and small birds. While mantises may eat harmful
insects and therefore act as a natural insect
control, they are just as likely to eat
beneficial ones, making their value to organic
farming questionable at best.
The mating season in temperate climates
typically begins in autumn. Fertilization is
internal, after which the female lays up to 400
eggs. Most mantises lay their eggs in one mass
that is then covered with a Styrofoam-like
substance secreted from the female's abdomen.
That substance subsequently hardens into a
protective casing called an ootheca.
Some female mantises stay with the eggs until
they hatch, but most leave as soon as they're
laid. Hatching usually takes place en masse in
the spring. Nymphs (hatchlings) look like tiny
versions of the adults, minus wings. In cooler
areas nymphs may take up to a year to reach
maturity, but in warmer climates there may be two
generations in one year.
Although female mantises will kill and eat
their mates if given the chance, this behavior
appears to be far more common in captive settings
than in the wild. In the wild, scientists believe
the male partner gets munched on less than 30% of
There are approximately 2,300
mantis species, spread amongst 12 genera in 14
families. The vast majority of them are found in
tropical and sub-tropical regions, but there a
few species in the northern United States and
Questions or comments about