Praying Mantid Information

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Phylum, Arthropoda; Class, Insecta; Order, Mantodea

Identifying Features

Appearance (Morphology)

  • Three distinct body regions: head, thorax (where the legs and wings are attached), abdomen.
  • Part of the thorax is elongated to create a distinctive 'neck'.
  • Front legs modified as raptorial graspers with strong spikes for grabbing and holding prey.
  • Large compound eyes on the head which moves freely around (up to 180°) and three simple eyes between the compound eyes.
  • Incomplete or simple metamorphosis (hemimetabolous).

Adult Males and Females
Females usually have heavier abdomen and are larger than males.

Immatures (different stages)
A distinct Styrofoam-like egg case protects Mantid eggs throughout the winter. Up to 200 or more nymphs may emerge from the egg case. The nymphs look like adults except for size and the sexual definition. Coloration and patterns in the nymph stage may be different than the adult.

Natural History

Food
Praying mantids are highly predacious and feed on a variety of insects, including moths, crickets, grasshoppers and flies. They lie in wait with the front legs in an upraised position. They intently watch and stalk their prey. They will eat each other.

Habitat
Praying mantids are often protectively colored to the plants they live on. This camouflage facilitates their predaceous behavior. Mantids are usually found on plants that have other insects around. Some mantids live in grass. Winged adults may be attracted to black lights in late summer and early fall.

Predators
Many fish and predatory aquatic insects eat larvae and pupae. Bats, birds and spiders eat flying adults.

Interesting Behaviors
The adult female usually eats the male after or during mating. Mantid's grasping response is incredibly rapid, so that you see it before it catches the insect and when the insect is in its front legs. The motion is barely a blur if it is perceived at all.

The compound eyes are capable of seeing images and colors. The three simple eyes perhaps tell the differences between light and dark.. The simple eyes are arranged in a triangle between the antennae. Compound eyes are made up of hundreds of facets constructed with two lenses. These focus the light down a light sensitive structures (rhabdome) which is connected to the optic nerve.

Impact on the Ecosystem

Positive
Mantids are active predators and consume other insects. They are good garden predators, but are cannot keep up with the population growth of some insect populations and do not discriminate between beneficial and harmful garden insects.

Negative
None known.

Collecting Live Insects

Where to find
Praying mantids and /or their egg cases are very difficult to locate by just looking at plants because of their camouflage. To find adults, look on flowering plants and at porch lights in August through late September. Adult males will often fly to porch lights in the late fall. Home vegetable and flower gardens that are organic or where no insecticides have been used may be a good place to look. Egg cases can be purchased from: Carolina Biological Supply Company, ARBICO, Science Kit and Boreal Laboratories, Ward's Biology.

How to collect
To collect an egg case, carefully cut the branch with the egg case several inches below the case. If the case is attached to a wall or board, you will not be able to remove it without damaging the case. In capturing immature or adult mantids, you can use your hands to cup around the insect or gently coax them into a container. Using an insect net may be helpful to capture adults with wings. Carefully lay the net over or to the side of the mantid and with one hand gently usher the mantid into the net. Transfer the mantid into a container large enough for the mantid to move around in.

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Lesson Plans Information Sheets Rearing Sheets Bibliography
Center for Insect Science Education Outreach The University of Arizona
Contact:CISEO
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