Species: Praying mantis (or praying mantid)
Scientific name: Insect order Mantodea
Claim to fame: Many people are familiar with these large insects that are known for their unique appearance and their predatory skills. Praying mantises are often considered to be beneficial because their hunting skills help control insect pests. Some people capture praying mantises, or collect their egg sacs, and put them in their gardens.
Species status: It’s presumed praying mantises are stable throughout much of their range.
First discovered: One of the earliest scientific descriptions of the praying mantis was written by the German painter and naturalist August Johann Rosel von Rosenhof. Many of the illustrations that accompanied his scientific descriptions of various species of insects, reptiles and amphibians are now considered to be valued pieces of art.
Family matters: “Praying mantis” is the most common name for this insect, but praying mantid is more accurate. “Mantis” is the name of a specific genus of mantids – which is the collective name for the insects in the Mantodea order. (The use of the word mantis in an all-inclusive fashion probably stems from the fact that Mantis religiosa – the European mantis – is one of the most common mantid species.) There are approximately 1,800 mantid species in the world. The three most common mantids in Missouri – and in North America – are the European mantis, the Chinese mantis (Tenodera aridifolia sinensis) and the Carolina mantis (Stagmomantis carolina). The European mantis and Chinese mantis are not native to North America.
Length: The length of praying mantises vary from one centimenter to more than 17 centimeters.
Diet: Praying mantises are adept hunters that feed on a variety of insects. Some of the larger mantids also occasionally capture reptiles and small birds. The two front legs, which are used for capturing and seizing prey, have sharp spines. These legs are folded in a praying position (hence the name) until prey comes close enough for the well-camouflaged insect to strike. Mantids may be seen moving along a leaf or twig in a slow, methodical fashion, but they can strike at speeds imperceptible to the naked eye.
Weight: not available
Distinguishing characteristics: Most people envision praying mantises as being green to lime-green in color, which are the colors of the commonly seen European and the Chinese mantids. In truth, mantids come in several colors. Mantids have triangular heads and large compound eyes. They have the flexibility to move their heads from side to side, much like humans. Mantids hunt during the day, but they often fly at night.
Life span: approximately one year
Habitat: In Missouri, praying mantises are often found in areas of tall grasses, shrubs and other types of dense, close-to-the-ground vegetation.
Life cycle: Reproduction occurs during late summer. During mating, the female frequently eats the male’s head. The male body is equipped to complete the mating process, after which the female devours the rest of the male’s body. Eggs are laid in a pod called an ootheca. An ootheca can contain between 30 and 300 eggs. A female mantis can lay up to 22 oothecas during its mating period, depending on food availability. Oothecas are attached to a twig, stem or some other secluded location. The female dies approximately two weeks after egg-laying is completed and the eggs hatch the following spring. Often a young mantis’ first meal is a less-wary sibling. Young mantid nymphs undergo a series of molts until the process of mating and egg-laying is repeated in late summer.