Bulletin 11 - July 1980: Praying Mantises

Praying Mantises

by Diane Donohue
Order: Dictyoptera (cockroaches and mantises)
Suborder: Mantodea (mantises)

The praying mantises are readily distinguished from cockroaches by the strong spined raptorial front legs. They also have a long, narrow prothorax that forms a movable 'neck'. At rest, the prothorax is usually raised a little and the front legs are held folded in front of the face - hence the name 'praying mantises'.

Many mantises are green and they are well hidden as they sit motionless among the vegetation waiting for food. Some of the tropical species are brightly colored with bizarre outgrowths on the limbs and body.

All mantises are carnivorous insects and they use their front legs to catch food. Flies, grasshoppers and butterflies and many other insects form their diet. The mantis shoots out its front legs at great speed, snapping them shut around the prey while the spines hold the insect firmly as the mantis devours its food greedily with the aid of its strong and sharp mandibles. The jaws cut the toughest of insects - cutting straight through it.

Mating in the mantises has been compared to that in spiders because the male is somewhat smaller than his mate and often ends up as her next meal. The eggs are laid on oothecae of various kinds. One common type starts off as a frothy secretion pumped out of the abdomen with the eggs. The secretion soon hardens into a tough spongy material. These oothecae are attached to the twigs and branches of plants, and a female will produce a dozen or more during her lifetime. The young are worm-like at first but they soon change into a mantis-like creature.

Mantises are mainly tropical insects. There are nearly 2,000 species, of which only about a dozen reach Europe.

Mantises live well in captivity provided they have a supply of flies or other insects for them to eat. However, if you do plan to keep mantises for study - please consult your Insect Recorder before feeding it an unusual looking insect - it may be one we are looking for!

If anyone is willing to collect and study mantises, please let the Insect Recorder know.


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