Tag Archives: entomology

The Visitor: Preying Mantis Edition

Her entrance into my world last week was quite startling.

I was standing near traffic when she flew in and crashed smack dab into the middle of my chest, crashing to the ground. But, oh, what a beautiful creature she is! Judging from her size she is probably a European mantid (Mantis religiosa).  I quickly scooped her up and released her in my Morning Glory vine. She was probably pushed northward by Hurricane Harvey. She stayed a couple days hunting amongst the foliage. Often times, I had some real difficulty finding her; she blends in so well. However, she was very tolerant of my camera in her face. I was able to get a couple good shots. I haven’t been able to find her for awhile though, so she’s probably moved on. Nor have I found an egg mass. I was hoping I’d see more in the yard next year. I am grateful for the privilege of her visit and wish her well on her journey.

About The Preying Mantis

Of the 20 species of mantids that occur in North America, the introduced Chinses Mantis, at a length of as much as four inches, is the largest. They are large, solitary, slow moving creatures. Praying Mantis species are found in many differing habitats. They are generally located in the warmer regions, particularly tropical and subtropical latitudes. Most species live in the tropical rainforest, although others can be found in deserts, grasslands and meadowlands. 

The European mantid species were introduced in the northeast U.S. about 75 years ago as garden predators for pest control. They are very efficient and deadly general predators of most pest insects. They have enormous appetites, eating various aphids, leafhoppers, mosquitoes, mites, caterpillars and other soft-bodied insects when young. Later they will eat larger insects, beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, or any insect within reach. 

Pregnant females have been known to devour mice, scorpions, snakes and lizards. While lizards, snakes and scorpions will often eat small mantids, they often steer clear of the swift spiky forelegs and ruthless fighting tactics of an adult. Frogs are another natural enemy who can kill or be killed, according to relative size. Spiders will gladly devour a young mantis captured in a web, providing the praying mantis is not bigger. Tarntulas and praying mantises eat each other, with the victory meal usually going to whoever is bigger. In Japan, the giant hornet’s toughly armored 2-inch body is topped off with cutting jaws and 1/4-inch long stingers that make it one of the only insects consistently deadly to the praying mantis. Here’s a video of a pretty cool battle between a mantis and a bee:

Care and Behavior of the Preying Mantis

These ferocious-looking animals actually make great pets. Some will even eat raw meat and insects from your fingers. With plenty to eat they usually will not stray far. If handled properly they don’t bite.  They are easy to raise and among the insects most commonly kept as pets.

Their “neck” allows the head to rotate 180 degrees, allowing for a wide visual field. They are the only known insect that can turn its head and look over its shoulder. Mantids are well camouflaged to blend in with their surroundings. They will stand nearly motionless, patiently waiting for the next potential meal to wander by; nothing moving but their head as they track their prey. They assume a “praying” position, folding the legs under their head. They snap up their prey with a lightning movement of their strong forelegs. Measurements of their reflexes show they react more than 2 times quicker than houseflies. They have very bad table manners, dropping much of their meal to the ground where scavengers and decomposers feast on the leftovers.

The male mantid takes great care in approaching the female prior to any sexual activity. He is fully aware that she is just as likely to literally tear off his head and eat him as she is to allow for intercourse. And, if she happens to be hungry, she just might eat him afterward anyway. She will lay groups of 12-400 eggs in a frothy liquid, called ootheca, that turns to a hard protective shell about the size and shape of a cigarette filter glued to tree twigs, plant stems, fences, walls and other objects.  She will die after laying. The eggs remain in the shell over winter. Small mantids emerge in the spring. Often, their first meal is a sibling. 

She will lay groups of 12-400 eggs in a frothy liquid, called ootheca, that turns to a hard protective shell about the size and shape of a cigarette filter glued to tree twigs, plant stems, fences, walls and other objects.  She will die after laying. The eggs remain in the shell over winter. Small mantids emerge in the spring. Often, their first meal is a sibling. 

Mantid ootheca (egg case)

Mantis Symbolism

These traits have lead the mantis to be a symbol of meditation and contemplation. Overwhelmingly, in most cultures, the mantis is a symbol of stillness. In fact, in China, the mantis has long been honored for her mindful movements. Usually, she will show up in our lives when we become driven by chaotically busy activity to the point that we no longer hear the still small voice within. The mantis comes to us when we need peace, quiet and calm in our lives. An appearance from the mantis is a message to be still, go within, meditate, get quite and reach a place of calm.

It may also be a sign for you to be more mindful of the choices you are making and confirm that these choices are congruent. Consider the overwhelming evidence that backs the mantis up as being a docile, graceful, peaceful creature…and yet recognize her propensity for deep destruction. Mantis symbolism includes both serenity and severity. So whether as a mode of self-protection or protecting our interests – let the mantis make it very clear – we are capable of extraordinary actions to guard what we hold dear. This is a message to us to contemplate and be sure our minds and souls all agree together about the choices we are making in our lives.

Praying mantids have an association with many diverse pharmacological and religious beliefs. The Greeks called them “Mantes”, which means prophets. The Chinese write of the mantis as curing anything from impotence to goiter.

Mantis Informational Links

Wikipedia’s Mantis Page

Garden Insects: A Comprehensive Guide to Safe Biological Pest Control

Entomology Dept.,
University of Kentucky: Preying Mantids

Pets On Mom.Me: What Are the Enemies of a Preying Mantis?