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Insect Information Page

Your online guide to the praying mantis insect.

INSECT INFORMATION
GENUS and SPECIES
CAROLINA MANTIS: Stagmomantis
CHINESE PRAYING MANTIS: Tenodera
MANTIS MOLTING
MANTIS WEBLOGS
MYTHS and LEGENDS
MANTIS REPRODUCTIVE PRACTICES
The STORY of LADY M
DIAGRAMS and NOMENCLATURE
INSECT FIGHTING STRATEGY
CLONED MANTIDS


Praying Mantis Pictures
 

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Praying Mantis Insect Information

Praying Mantis Insect General Information

The praying mantis insect is a fascinating and mysterious animal. It has sparked the imagination of countless human beings around the world and has established itself as a successful species in a wide variety of habitats across five continents.It has been called "prophet". The word 'mantis' derives from the Greek and can be translated as 'soothsayer'.

There is a Chinese saying that if you are lost and happen across a praying mantis, observe it for a while, and sooner or later it will flick it's forelegs out, pointing in the correct direction of your home.

Mantis Characteristics

It has a total of six legs with the front two being highly modified and specialized to its needs as a predatory hunter. The front legs are greatly enlarged and spined, perfectly fitted for siezing and holding prey. It is the resting folded positioning of those two front legs from which the nomenclature 'praying' mantis derives. When in repose, these legs appear to be held in a reverential manner.

Since the insect spends much of its life sitting still and waiting for hapless prey to wander within reach of a lightning fast strike with its forelegs it is no wonder that it was named after the human pastime of praying which also involves stillness. However, anyone who spends time watching the voracious and vicious hunting practices of this masterful predator will become aware that it is anything but reverential. In fact, in honour of its hunting skills it has been called the 'preying' mantis by some!

The mantis insect has a long and slender prothorax, and a broad head with a triangular shaped face. The praying mantis insect is unique among all insects in that its head moves freely upon its neck and it is capable of 180 degree movement with its head without moving its body. This is an exceptionally important Darwinian-evolution, survival feature for the mantis. Interestingly, it also represents a characteristic component of the system of Praying Mantis Fist. Praying mantis kung fu is a traditional Chinese martial art that embodies the spirit of the praying mantis insect.

Wang Lang invented praying mantis kung fu

Praying Mantis Insect Genus and Species

 


Praying Mantis Genus and Species

Praying Mantis Biological Genus and Species List

The following table is an example of the biological classification of just one of the more than 1800 different species of praying mantis in our world today. Praying mantis insects exist on all continents except Antarctica.


The Stagmomantis carolina mantis is the state insect of South Carolina, USA.

Biological Classification of the Carolina Mantis

Kingdom
Animal
Phylum
Arthropoda
Super-class
Hexapoda
Class
Insecta
Sub-class
Pterygota
Order
HemiMetabola
Order
Dictyoptera (Orthoptera)
Sub-order
Mantodea (8 families)

Genus

Stagmomantis
Species
carolina

This type of praying mantis is also called simply the "Carolina Mantis".

View the Biological Classification of Another Type of Praying Mantis
Chinese Praying Mantis

Pictured below is a 'mated pair' of Stagmomantis Carolina from BugGuide.net

carolina mantis

A mated pair of Stagmomantis carolina praying mantids.

Note the sexual dimorphism (size difference between sexes) between the male and female praying mantids pictured above. The male is much smaller and darker in colour than the female. Having just landed upon his mate's back, he then firmly grasps her around the prothorax with his modified front legs. This increases his chances of successful reproduction.

In order to attract the male of her species, the female mantis will secrete a specific phermone when she is receptive and the conditions are optimal.

When full grown, the male of this praying species is much more likely to fly than the female. The female mantis possesses a heavy abdomen, replete with two more sections than the male, and this renders her less mobile.

The male mantids have been noted to fly predominantly during dawn and dusk and can travel quite long distances in search of a mate. Upon scenting a receptive female, the male will patiently initiate his approach. If the male fails to approach the female appropriately then he is more likely to end up as her meal than he is to become her mate.

Continuous inhibition, when relieved,
manifests as a strong activation.

There are reports that some species of male praying mantis have a mating dance which involves a specific pattern of limb-waving and an approach that may take many hours. Male mantids of certain mantis species are more likely to stealthily creep up on their potential mate and then leap or fly the last part of the distance, landing upon her back and attempting immediately to copulate.

Under conditions of excess prey (abundance of food), there is much less likeklihood of the male being eaten by the female during reproduction. However, not leaving anything to chance, evolution has selected for male mantids with greater agility and of shorter physical stature than their mates.

In fact, in most mantis species, the males are appropriately sized so that their heads are slightly out of reach for a bite, were the female to turn around during reproduction whilst their abdomens were connected.

Even so, were the female mantis to relieve her mate of his head during mating, the loss of a continuous signal from an inhibitory centre in the male mantid's brain would lead to an increase in abdomenal spasming during ejaculation. The male's body would continue in a completion of the reproductive act while the female calmly munched upon his brainstem.

Read More About Mantis Reproduction

The Chinese Praying Mantis

Tenodera sinensis pet
tenoderaPet

 

The following table is an example of the biological classification of the extremely popular Chinese Praying Mantis. Because this variety of mantis is considered to be a good pet by the Chinese people, it has been carried all over the world and is widely available for purchase. I purchased my last Tenodera oothecae from a supplier in Arizona. Before that I had some shipped from North Carolina. And my very first Tenodera pet was purchased from a pet store in Vancouver, Canada.

Tenodera sinensis

Animal
Kingdom
Arthropoda
Phylum
Hexapoda
Super-class
Insecta
Class
Pterygota
Sub-class
HemiMetabola
Order
Dictyoptera (Orthoptera)
Order
Mantodea (8 families)
Sub-order
Tenodera

Genus

aridifolia
Species
sinensis
Sub-species

Tenodera nymph undergoing her first molt
Chinese Mantis Nymph


Mantis Molting (Echdysis: the act of shedding skin)

Mantids molt throughout their lifetime, as many as seven or eight times, with their final molt resulting in their mature form. It is in this last molt that the mantid's two sets of wings unfurl. The wings develop slowly throughout the mantids life and appear first in mid-stage nymphs as tiny buds on the back of the thorax.

The mantis nymph hangs upside down for a few days in a row while it is molting. When it emerges from its old skin, it puffs itself up with air and nearly doubles in size from its pre-molt dimensions.

After a few hours its exoskeleton begins to harden and it is ready to move again. Until then, it is particularly vulnerable to attack and damage. If touched during this soft-skin period it's limbs may deform and it may become injured or scarred. If the environment is too dry, it may fail to disengage from its sloughed skin layer and it will die shortly thereafter.

Among a given hatching of mantids a certain proportion will fail to molt correctly. In terrarium-bred mantids, it is not uncommon to see a poor little mantis dragging around a heavy pile of skin which looks like it's attached to its hind legs by an overly long and inverted sock.

Molting is the hardest time of life for little mantids. For approximately a week before molting the mantis will lack interest in feeding and become quite stationary. Once it has completed the molting process, however, the mantis will be ravenous and will eat every last morsel of the first prey that it catches.

Mantis undergoing its final molt
Unzipping the skin and molting

In its final molt, the wingbuds unfurl into functional wings as those of the mantid pictured above are about to do. Right after emerging, the mantis appears pale, until its exoskeleton hardens. Its shed skin is a perfect reproduction of itself, only white. It is almost as if it had unzipped itself and crawled right out of its own skin. After molting, the praying mantis will sit very still for many hours, taking deep breaths in order to expand its exoskeleton to provide room for future growth.

The Story of Lady M

 

Read About Lady M


The Story of Lady M

The Story of Lady M
by Josh Schafer

The name "Lady M" stands for Lady Mantis. Not a very imaginative name for my first pet mantis, you might say. Perhaps you are right, but I think it would have seemed more appropriate to you if you had met her in person.

Lady M was my first-ever "insect pet" and she was very special. I had loads of fun raising her from nymph stage to adult, and I ended up playing with her every single day. I discovered that owning a mantis is very much like owning a cat in more ways than one!

Lady M

Meeting Lady M


Meet "Lady M"

Lady M was an African Mantis that I purchased as a '2nd-molt' (approximately 1.5 month old) nymph from Noah's Pet Ark on Broadway Avenue in Vancouver, Canada. She was well socialized, and would happily climb out of her cage onto my hands and perch on my shoulder or arm without fear.

Her particular personality trait was that she ate and ate and ate. Having had many other mantis pets since I now know that Lady M ate more than the typical pet mantis. I fed her nearly every day, and sometimes I fed her multiple times a day.

Because she was my 'first', I could never get tired of watching her stalk, catch, and eat her prey. It was just soooo darn cool!!! After having studied praying mantis kung fu for 4 years, to finally see the 'original fighting style' at work was an unbelievably profound experience. I have heard other mantis fist practitioners refer to the insect as "The Little Sifu".

It is hard to describe how many aspects of praying mantis fist kung fu have been incorporated from this "tiger" of the Insect World's fighting arsenal. Suffice it to say that every one of the character principles of praying mantis kung fu and many of the deeper philosophies of the system are evidenced by this fascinating creature.

The Daily Feast

I hunted for feeder insects for Lady M all over the place. Where ever I went I carried small bottles with holes punched in their lids and I kept my eyes peeled for insect species that I hadn't yet exposed her to. I experimented with different types of prey and learned her food preferences.

It turned out that she just 'freaked out with joy' about eating pretty much anything that flew. She would instantly pay attention when I put the hapless flying insect meal into her terrarium. She would begin to rock side-to-side in 'excitement', or so it appeared to me.

I have since learned that the characteristic, side-to side rocking movement serves to provide the mantis with a complete picture of the full field-of-view and enables it to triangulate the position of its target. True "Binocular Vision", a trait that is completely rare within the insect world.

Because of the way that the mantis is rocking, its prey perceive it as merely part of the scenery, like a twig or leaf, blowing in the wind. Meanwhile, during the process of consuming their prey, the insect will move from side-to-side or order that its predators are less likely to spot it.

In the distorted world of "insect perception" with their complicated "compound eyes", it's actually much better to be moving than to sit still if you want to remain undetected. By sitting still, one's shape allows an tiny insect brain to distinguish predator from background among the many different inputs that it receives from each facet of its eye-surface. However, when faced with the gently waving strands of a thousand blades of grass, or a tree full of leaves moving in the breeze, multiplied by thousands of different angles, the insect brain has to 'summarize' the data inputs and it loses the 'signal for the noise'. In other words, by moving rhythmically, the mantis fades into the background.

Fastidious Eating Habits

Lady M loved to eat moths and butterflies the best of all... but she never ate their wings. After devouring their tasty bodies, she would fastidiously clean her talons and wipe her lips and palps of the dust from the wings. These feathery and colourful reminders of a recent feast would be casually discarded in a characteristic heap at the bottom of the cage. Meanwhile, the process of cleaning its face, limbs, and antennae are very endearing. The mantis 'grooming' is highly reminiscent of a powerful feline, such as a tiger, proudly cleaning itself after a good hunt.

If I would put multiple moths into Lady M's cage on a given night, I would inevitably wake up the next morning to find only discrete little piles of wings and legs in different spots in the terrarium, and never any living moths.

Once, I personally witnessed her catching two moths at the same time! She snagged the first one with both forelegs, then shifted her grip, transferring her prey securely to one foreleg she reached out and caught the other insect with one limb only. She looked up at me with one moth on each leg and I swear she offered me up a self-pleased grin. She then proceeded to eat each moth, methodically, one-by-one and with much happy rocking... leaving an extra large pile of wings and dust on the bottom of the cage.

Not Fastidious, but Selective

It has been reported by some that mantids will eat any insect at all, and are indiscriminate in their appetite. In the case of Lady M, it would not be right to say that she was fastidious, but she was certainly selective in her approach to prey.

The same passion that she exhibited towards moths was not true of all of the food that I put in her cage. For example, she rarely ate beetles, and never touched lady bugs. She didn't like wasps, but loved bees. She ate some kinds of spiders, but maintained a truce with others.

Supposedly lady bugs (aka: ladybird beetles) are 'bitter' in taste to predatory insects and birds, and are widely considered unappetizing. Certainly, all the ladybugs that I have ever put in with my pet mantids have seemed to survive and co-exist peacefully with their ferocious cousins. This is actually a good thing, since my friend thought that I was particularly 'mean' to throw cute little innocent ladybugs in with my nasty mantis-pet.

To me it wasn't insect-sacrificing viciousness... it was kung fu training!

I was exposing Lady M to a variety of prey in order to watch how she interacted with them and to observe her hunting techniques.

The only flying insects that Lady M disliked were wasps. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that she 'hated' wasps with a passion. The first time I put a wasp in the cage I could tell immediately that there was a problem. Lady M, a medium-sized nymph, looked around at the sound of the wasp's angry wing buzzings. She seemed to shrink up against the roof of the cage and try to make herself 'small'. The wasp paid no attention to the mantis but flew around madly, as wasps are wont to do, bumping into the walls and the roof in its search for a way out of the cage. At some point the wasp blundered into the mantis, flying at medium speed, and I was completely surprised to observe Lady M falling straight to the floor of the cage and landing awkwardly on her back. She righted herself slowly and then climbed back up to the top of the cage. Meanwhile, I had let the wasp out of the cage and released it to the outdoors.

I didn't expose Lady M to wasps again until she was fully grown. I had initially been surprised that my 'tough Lady M', this seemingly fearless predator, had not mounted any resistance against her yellow-and-black-banded opponent. I would have at least thought that she might flick her fore-legs at it and try to fend if off, but it seemed that there was a deeper instinct at work. The teenage Lady M was 'outgunned' by the wasp. She knew that she wasn't ready to take on that foe, and so resorted to defensive action in order to avoid conflict.

Later, I was to learn that the wasp is one of the praying mantid's arch-enemies. Many species of wasp are evolved to hunt mantids, and to specifically lay their eggs in mantis egg-sacs!

Once Lady M was fully grown, however, having reached her adult metamorphosis, things were different with wasps. After her final molt Lady M developed a whole different caliber of body-armour than she had exhibited as a nymph. In addition, after that molt she unfurled her two sets of wings. At that point she wasn't afraid of wasps, since she had completely developed her body armour and tibial spines. But it was clear to me that she fully perceived the wasp as her 'enemy'. She would kill any wasp that I put in the cage, but never ate much more of them than their heads. (I guess the quickest way to silence them was to eat their brainstem and then let their bodies drop to the cage-floor.) I occasionally threw a little wasp into the cage in order to watch the battles...

Honey BeesHoney bees have a pouch on the back of the leg that is tasty to mantids...

Lady M's attitude about bees was the complete opposite of how she felt about wasps. Again, my girlfriend complained that I was "catching nice little honey bees and throwing them in with the Beast!" It was not true, I protested. It was just that my favourite pet, Lady M, just loved to munch on bees and I merely wanted to keep her happy, healthy, and fat! Lady M was especially fond of honey bees, and cared not as much for the drones. She would rarely eat the legs off of any other insects (which don't have much meat on them). However, she would always eat honey bee legs, on the back of which there is a pouch for storing amber nectar, derived from pollen. Clearly this was honeyed ambrosia for Lady M.

A Very Large Abdomen

Eventually, Lady M got so big in the abdomen, that I sometimes thought that she looked a little bit like a set of bag-pipes with long spindly legs. There's only so much room that an abdomen can expand on a praying mantis once they've finished their final molt. In the wild, I doubt that they would ever manage to eat very many tasty and tender, juicy insect morsels without running around a bit to catch them. But my 'lady' of a pet got as much food as she could handle, and then a little more. In fact, Lady M ate so much that she got large enough that her abdomen plates were quite separated from each other and it looked to me as if she had a giant set of bellows for a belly.

A Rear-View of Lady M

In this photograph you can also see some white powder on the branch to which Lady M is clinging. This is "herp powder" which is a special mix of multi-vitamins, used to dust the prey, in order to provide mantids (also used for pet lizards, turtles, and other insects) with optimal health.

Lady M had a very large abdomen...
The spaces between the plates on the abdomen are softer than the rest of the body, allowing expansion, contraction, and dextrous movements of the abdomen.

Lady M's Abdomen

Lady M's abdomen wasn't like our human belly at all, actually. She had great control of the muscles in her abdomen and they would often ripple and contract in different directions as she swung her cerci-tipped rostrum around in the air. She never met a mate during her lifetime, but just before she passed away (of old age) she put a huge burst of energy into laying a double ootheca on the roof of her cage. I was lucky enough to catch this process on camera, and even got some video of the event.

In doing some further research, I found out that the African praying mantis is not one of the species that can parthenogenetically reproduce. It seems likely that Lady M's body was reacting to the incredible abundance of food-supply and even though she had never been mated, it went through the motions of laying an egg-sac with no fertilized eggs within it: a sterile ootheca.

Here Lady M is laying the second of two oothecae.
Lady M Decided to lay her second ootheca adjacent to the first.

For one week before the egg-laying, Lady M didn't eat any food. I became concerned at that point, since I had no idea what was about to happen. She had always been a voracious eater. I tried dangling crickets in front of her nose... but she just turned away from them and sat very still in her cage. Then I noticed that her abdomen was starting to contract in a rhythmic manner.

The moment when she started producing a thick brown foam from her abdomen, and then frothing it up with her highly mobile cerci, was one of powerful natural beauty.

As soon as I saw that happening, I scrambled for my camera and then spent the next few hours documenting her egg-laying process.

She was experiencing abdomenal contractions long before anything started coming out of her body. She took a careful hold of the cage and spread her arms out to their most open configuration. Then she began to make small circles with the tip of her abdomen, secreting the outer egg-sac insulative substance. In its initial state, this foam is quite soft, but it becomes exceptionally hard upon setting and it quite resistant to most forms of pressure and temperature. It is hard not to compare the process to many of the commercially available tubes of insulating foam that I have used to weather-proof my house.

As she was laying the eggs, Lady M would often press the tip of her abdomen onto the foam and then her tiny finger-like projections, called cerci, would with surprising dexterity manipulate the foam and create tiny channels and tunnels in it while building it up in a cylindrical manner. This is why the ootheca of the mantis ends up being slightly wider than the circumference of the female mantid's abdomen. This part of the process was difficult not to compare to the process of a human potter, buiding up a vase on a potting wheel and pulling it upwards with graceful fingers.

Ootheca Architecture

The mantis ootheca/eggsac is actually a wonderful piece of architecture, with variable numbers of individualized chambers for each nymph (ranging from 30 up to 600 plus), each chamber complete with birthing tunnels, and an escape hatch. The inner segments of the chamber and the nymph's membranous coating are edible, and the outer section is exceptionally durable, resistant to the elements including extreme cold and heat, and is intentionally coloured and positioned to camouflage with the environment.

The mantis female can attach the egg sac in any number of creative places and will select the location very specifically. In fact, some species of mantis, who are specially coloured to camouflage with their oothecae, will actually stay with the egg sac and guard it from potential predators until it hatches. The combination of mother and egg-sac is optimally coloured to blend into the background of the specific trees on which she lays the ootheca.

The moment in which the cluster of baby nymphs emerges from the ootheca is a precipitous burst and completes rapidly. Then the process of the nymphs freeing themselves from their 'harness' begins, with them all wriggling furiously, and those on the outsides getting out first. Most nymphs then climb up on top of the egg-sac, and survey the territory, before setting out and dispersing in all directions.

 

In this picture, the nymphs are just starting to burst out of the front of the ootheca.

In the end, after the birthing process of Lady M was done, there were two gorgeous, brown, cylindrical oothecae sitting side-by-side, permanently fixed to the roof of the terrarium. The second one was approximately half the size of the first, and she had laid them one after the other. For a week afterwards she sat around, as if exhausted by her endeavour. Still not eating. Then she ate a few crickets. And then a week later I found her lying on the bottom of the terrarium with her legs curled up and it became clear to me that she was deceased.

Lady M has nearly finished building her second egg sac
Lady M finished laying her second egg sac and died soon after.

As a final good-bye, I dissected her body. I can happily report that she was as fascinating and beautiful on the inside as on the outside. I thanked her for all of the things that she had taught me, and then said 'adieu'. Then I went out to the pet store a few weeks later and bought myself another nymph. I called her M2 (emToo).

 

M2


Meet Lady M2

 

Praying Mantis Stories and Legends

 

 

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Praying Mantis Stories and Legends

Praying Mantis Stories and Legends

Likely as a direct consequence of its unique and exotic nature, many stories and legends about the praying mantis have been created and many of them have spread around the world. One such legend refers to the sexual habits of some species of praying mantis. This legend has become so widespread that it has achieved near mythical status. Another legend is that the praying mantis insect is cannibalistic, happily eating it's mate, especially during copulation. Yet another is that mantids can reproduce by cloning. And that it has ultrasonic hearing.

In fact, there is much truth to the legends... but also some misconceptions, as well as exaggerations are commonplace in both the popular media as well as in the literature..

The following exposition below on the sexual habits of the praying mantis insect is a fusion of personal anecdotes from the experience of owning and rearing pet mantodoea as well as an accumulation of scientific data from a number of entymological sources. I heartily encourage everyone to experience this fascinating animal first-hand and to perform their own investigations into the legends of the praying mantis...

 

Sexual Habits of the Praying Mantis Insect

Legend: The female praying mantis, during sex with her partner, turns around and bites his head off. Rather than stopping him from performing his gamete-donating duties, this lack of cerebral matters encourages his body to spasm wildly and he can continue to inseminate the female, even while she calmly munches on his head!

Fact: This legend is actually based upon scientifically proven truth. In the laboratory setting, it has been shown that certain species of mantis exhibit Black Widow Spider-like behaviour and consume their mate during copulation. But this occurs very rarely, and under special circumstances. In fact, it is an extremely strong example of Darwinian selection, despite appearing to be exactly the opposite.

From a human perspective, to have to sacrifice one's life for a one-shot, one-time sex-capade is a bit tough to accept, even if your partner is pretty good looking and wearing a sexy perfume that you can't resist!

But to a male mantis it makes perfect sense.

Start off by considering the following facts: The mantis female, under optimal nourishment conditions, is capable of laying 6 egg sacs (ootheca, pl. oothecae), each of which may contain upwards of 400 individual eggs. [In actual fact, many species of mantis are far less fecund and often lay much smaller oothecae with as few as 20-30 progeny inside.] This means that her maximally fertile state involves a production of 2400 viable eggs. [NB: These figures are estimates and will vary greatly between the 1834 different known species of mantis throughout the world.]

One component of the praying mantis personality is that they disperse themselves, following birth, and continuously wander until they find a safe strategic place to hide. This means that by the time they reach sexual maturity (approximately three months of age) there may not be any other mantids within close proximity.

Under normal environmental circumstances, when the female is appropriately effective at catching prey and is well nourished, she releases a potent pheromone from glands near the caudal portion of her abdomen, located near her cerci. Any male mantis in the vicinity will be instantly lured to her location and may succeed in approaching her successfully.

The Mating Dance

Remember, the praying mantis, both male and female, are supreme hunters.

Their combat strategies are extensive and well adapted, and their reflexes are primed to fire on specific triggers. So, in order for the male to approach the female productively and without being treated contemptuously as a meal, he has to stalk her. In some species of mantis this process may take many hours. The optimal direction for the male to approach is naturally from the rear. If he succeeds at spotting his mate without her noticing his approach, he may mount her without her even seeming to note his presence. His movements when he is nearing the female are halting, with much vacillation and freezing in place. When he is within range he will jump, or sometimes fly and jump, attempting to land directly on his mate's back and immediately press his sexual organs against hers, in effect 'docking upon contact'.

If the male mantis miscalculates his trajectory, however, he may very likely end up in his mate's intensely-spined grip, rather than perched in the proper position upon her back.

A truly receptive female will not even seem to care while her mate donates his sperm. An effectively mating male mantis will not necessarily overstay his welcome. If he disingages quickly and falls off then he may be able to find another fertile female with whom to enable the spread of his genetic material. However, if he disengages, another suitor may detect the phermones and come a calling. His genetic donation will then have competition and he may not end up fathering a large proportion of his mate's clutch of eggs. This will happen if the mantis population is very large in a region and the conditions support a lot of feeder insects.

However, if the female is undernourished and has achieved full maturity without being mated she may become a bit more desperate. Under such circumstances, when she is mounted by her mate, the female mantis will view the male as the only good meal that she's come close to catching in a long time. She will turn her triangular-shaped head to look over one shoulder, and then will happily relieve her mate of his.

In order for the Mantis male to approach the female productively, and without being treated contemptuously as a meal, he has to stalk her.

Mated Mantids looking quite happy.

The Inhibitory Reflex

This decapitation removes what is called an inhibitory reflex. The parasympathetic nervous system of the male mantis exerts a constant suppression of the ejaculatory muscles. Continuous inhibition, when relieved, manifests as a strong activation. Upon losing his head, the male mantid's body surrenders its entire load of genetic material. Meanwhile, the female will calmly continue to devour the male's body, from top to bottom, and all the while his abdomen is continuing to pulse and deliver its full load of sperm.

Now that the female has feasted, she will be capable of surviving, and will lay more egg sacs in a direct correlation with her nutritive state. She is capable of storing the male's sperm in her body, and can continue to lay many fertile oothecae over the course of her life without ever seeing another male.

And that is why it makes sense for the male mantis to die during copulation.

By donating his entire genetic load, as well as his body as nourishment for his mate, the male mantis guarantees that his gammete-derived progeny will be more numerous than if he had lived to 'tell the tale'.

Not all species of praying mantis are known to be cannibalistic.

Sibling Cannibalism

A Cannibalistic Nature

Myth: Mantids are Cannibalistic by Nature

Fact: Some praying mantis species are more cannibalistic than others, but under low feeder-insect conditions, it's 'every insect for themselves'.

As a general rule, praying mantids won't eat anything whose body is larger than their head. As the mantis nymphs mature, with each successive molt they double in size. Depending on prey availability, and also differing between various species of mantis, the insect may molt more than 7 times before reaching end-stage maturity. As they increase in size their diet expands to include larger insects and more challenging prey.

The following story relates to my own personal experience with rearing praying mantis nymphs. I purchased 3 Chinese praying mantis (Tenodera aridifolia sinensis) egg-sacs from Biocontrol Network in the USA. I was living in Victoria, BC at the time, in a basement apartment. I decided to hatch the three egg sacs one at a time with a month apart. It was to be my first time rearing mantids from an ootheca. Previously I had owned two mantids, but had purchased them from a pet store which was very good at raising mantids and actually sold me my pets for a mere $14.99. (read the Story of Lady M)This time I was to be doing it on my own, in order to properly understand the whole process and to fully enjoy it from start-to-finish.

With the first ootheca I didn't have enough prey available and some of the mantids resorted to eating their bretheren to survive. However, only a few managed to accomplish this feat and for the most part they perished with a seemingly abundant food source (ie: each other) available. Typically, the female mantis nymphs were more likely to eat the smaller males.

First Kill
A one-day-old praying mantis nymph, caught on camera biting into its first ever kill... a wingless fruitfly.

[If a 'wingless' fruit fly has no wings... shouldn't it be called a 'walk'? Or maybe a 'crawl'?]

 

Catching Birds

Myth: Some Mantids are such good hunters that they can even catch birds.

Fact: In fact, there are documented cases of mantids catching small birds. The diet of the larger species of praying mantis, such as the leaf-runner species, even includes small mammals including mice, as well as some species of lizards. Typically mammals are located higher than insects on the food chain... It is fortunate for the human species that praying mantis insects are not larger in size.

Parthenogenesis

Myth: Praying Mantis Females can give birth to clones using "Parthenogenetic reproduction".

Fact: This is true in certain species of mantis. Technically, 'Parthenogenesis' is the process of producing a twin or 'clone' without combining two haploid gametes into a zygote. In fact, a certain number of species of insect is capable of this type of 'asexual reproduction'. It has been reported to occur more frequently under situations where there is an abundance of prey, but insufficient potential mates. Under such circumstances, the mantid offspring will all be genetically identical to the female and there will often be far few viable nymphs per hatching.

 

Motion Parallax

Myth: The praying mantis is the only insect that can accurately judge the distance to its prey using stereoscopic binocular vision.

Fact: The praying mantis insect possesses fantastic visual accuity. Many experiments have been done on this subject. Experiments have confirmed the phenomenon of motion parallax in the mantis. This means that by moving its head from side-to-side, the mantis is able to measure an object's movement, relative to its background, and therefore to accurately gauge the the distance of an object from the mantis. This phenomenon is only possible if both eyes are functioning, and is also called "binocular triangulation", a feature of stereoscopic vision, otherwise only seen in vertebrates. This is combined with the capacity to rotate its head 180 degrees to allow the mantis to visually scan a total of 300 degrees. Mantid eyes can also change colour, appearing light green or tan in bright light, and changing to a darker brown in the dark.

 

Ultrasonic Hearing

Myth: The praying mantis insect possesses ultrasonic hearing.

Fact: In actuality, the praying mantis has one ear, located on its prothorax, which and is extremely sensitive to vibrations and ultrasonic-pitched frequencies such as those used by bats. It is capable of detecting frequencies that are just beyond the range of humans at around 20,000 Hz. When the mantis is flying, if it detects ultrasonic pulses used as the sonar of its mortal enemy, the bat, then it immediately commences aerial maneouvering in an evasive pattern. National Geographic featured the praying mantis in an online article.

 

Praying Mantis Insect Weblog

Praying Mantis Insect Weblog

The author is currently in the process of hatching Tenodera Aridifolia sinensis oothecae. A complete journal of this process will be added to this website in this location.

This picture was taken immediately following the last hatching of an egg-sac. The baby mantids that emerged here were mere minutes old when this photo was taken. They drop out of the ootheca encased in a slippery sac which they eat their way out of before climbing up past their siblings and venturing forth into the wide world. In real life the mass of insects dangling down would be a writhing, wiggling mass, with antennae wobbling, heads turning, and legs wobbling.

image from the most recent tenodera ootheca hatching

Mantis Blog : Coming Soon!

 

Praying Mantis Insect Diagrams and Nomenclature

Praying Mantis Insect Diagrams and Nomenclature

The following are labelled diagrams of the praying mantis insect Definitions are found below the diagram. Many of the characteristics of the mantis are shared by its insect relatives the grasshopper and the cockroach. Certain distinctive or uniquely mantoid features are outlined in the diagrams and descriptions.

Diagrams

Definitions:

Adult insects have common basic structures. The insect body has three main parts. These are the head, thorax, and abdomen. Each of these sections bear appendages (eg: antennae, mouthparts, and legs). The shape and size of appendages are modified depending on their use.

Head

Praying Mantis heads have a characteristic triangular shape and rotate freely upon a jointed neck. This 180 degree head movement is a unique feature among the insect world. All other insects have their heads fused to their thorax and are incapable of independent movement of the head.
Thorax The mantis thorax is divided up into a prothorax and a mesothorax. Each of these segments is modified in shape and configuration depending upon the species of insect. Often the shape and colour of the mantis thorax plays an important role in camouflage and defense for this insect.
Abdomen Praying mantids have a flexible abdomen comprised of 6 sections (male) or 8 sections (female). The adult abdomen is encased in hard plates on the top and bottom which are joined by flexible, transverse segments. When the insect breathes, the flexible sections enable the abdomen to expand. Female praying mantids have a very dextrous abdomen and are capable of highly controlled movements, especially during egg-laying.
Palps Modified appendages around the mouth are used to manipulate prey and are especially important during feeding. Many species of mantids have 4 palps, two upper and two lower, that surround a powerful mouth, adapted for biting and cutting.
Antennae Antennae (singular: antenna) of different species of mantis vary greatly in shape and size.
Ocellus Ocellus (plural: ocelli) is from the Latin diminutive word for eye. It is a small collection of sensory cells located on the head, typically situated between the compound eyes. An adult mantis may have 3 or 4 ocelli.
Eye Mantids possess a pair of large compound eyes. The multi-facetted surface of their eyes requires the mantis insect to move its head from side-to-side in order to focus properly, but gives it very good eyesight. Experiments have shown that motion parallax is apparent in the mantis. Mantis eyes change colour depending on the lighting conditions, appearing light green or tan under bright conditions, and darker coloured or brown in the dark.
Foreleg The front two legs of the mantis are highly adapted for capturing and seizing prey. Often these forelegs are described as "Raptorial", meaning "adapted to seize prey".
Walking Appendage The walking appendage on the foreleg folds back neatly into a modified groove on the tibia to keep out of the way when the mantis is hunting or fighting. During movement, the walking appendage extends forward and is used to support the insect. It's end segments are covered in tiny hairs.
Walking Hairs At the end of the tarsae there is a concentration of microscopic hairs which enable the mantis to climb virtually any surface, including sheer glass.
Tibial Spines On their modified raptorial forelegs, the praying mantid's upper tibia have two rows of variable-length spines which fit neatly with the lower tibial single-row of spines to create a "jackknife effect" when closing upon its prey. The end of the lower tibia is tipped with a wicked-looking spike that acts as a hook to pierce and ensnare prey when the leg is fully extended. As it moults and ages, the number of spikes and the thickness of the claws of the mantis will increase.
Middle Leg The middle legs are used for walking and climbing. Their end segments are covered in walking hairs. They possess four joints and are long and slender.
Hind Leg The hind legs are typically longer in length than the middle legs and have slightly longer foot seqments.
Coxa From the Latin word for 'hip'. Similar to the 'hock', it is the basal segment of the limb of Arthropods.
Trochanter A rough prominance at the upper segment of the femur. It is a second segment, counting from the base, of the leg of the insect.
Femur Third segment, counting from the base, of the leg of the insect. It is the longest segment of the leg, and typically the thickest. In all mantis species it is modified for camouflage purposes, sometimes quite fancifully.
Tibia The fourth segment, counting from the base, of the leg of the insect. In the praying mantis, the foreleg tibia is highly modified and specialized for mantoid activities.
Tarsus The distal part of the limb of the insect. It is segmented and covered in tiny hairs.
Foot The foot of the mantis insect is specially adapted for climbing and walking. Mantids can jump, run, cling to any surface, and often prefer to spend their whole life upside down. Their feet are placed with care and precision.
Thorax The mantis thorax is divided into three sections. Naming from the most rostral (closest to the head) they are the prothorax, mesothorax, and metathorax.
Prothorax The prothorax in a mature mantis forms an important part of their defensive exoskeleton and is often adapted in shape for camouflage. It is the most rostral section of the thorax and is the section to which the forelegs are attached.
Mesothorax The mesothorax is the middle section of the thorax. The middle leg attaches to the mesothorax. On the underside of the mesothorax is located the mantid's ultrasonic ear.
Metathorax The metathorax is the most caudal section of the thorax and is the segment to which the hind legs are attached.
Wings The mature praying mantis insect possess two pairs of wings.
Forewing The forewings are also called the outer wings. The outer wings are thickened for defense and are typically coloured for camouflage.
Hindwing The inner wings are also called the hind wings. They are more delicate, are typically clear with defined veins (like dragonfly wings) and are the primary wings used for flying.
Reproductive Organs The reproductive organs of the mantis are located at the teminus of the abdomen.
Anus The anus is located at the end of the abdomen.
Cerci The cercus (pluralized cerci) is a modified appendage located at the end of the abdomen of the female praying mantis. It is used during the egg laying process to shape the foamy secretions that will eventually harden into the ootheca and to position the eggs within the egg sac.

Spread Wings, and extended Forelegs Pose

Full Reach: In this photograph, the praying mantid's delicate hindwings are visible, as well as the camouflage markings on the heavier protective forewings. Many mantids have a pair of dots on their wings which simulate a pair of eyes for defensive posturing. When defending, the mantis may rear up and wave its forelegs while simultaneously rattling its wings together to create a hissing noise. One can also see that the raptorial forelegs are fully extended. The spine on the tip of the tibial section is the primary tool for snaring prey, but the more delicate tarsus can also be used to fully extend the grasping reach of the insect.

 

 

 

 

Praying Mantis Insect Fighting Strategy

Praying Mantis Insect Fighting Strategy

The following is by no means a comprehensive account of praying mantis insect fighting strategy. However, it is a guide to understanding some of the methods employed by this fascinating insect to defend itself and successfully capture and subdue prey.

Direct Attack

Certain species of praying mantis, such as the African Ground-Dwelling Mantis, are well adapted for running. The leafwing mantis is another species of mantis that will happily apply the direct method of attack upon spotting a likely prey. The direct attack is a strategy that works best if their prey is smaller and weaker than the mantis, and this type of attack can be instantly overwhelming.

Leafwing Praying Mantis

 

Indirect Attack

The indirect attack is always an available option to the mantis. This fighting strategy includes the built in advantage of camouflage. By positioning itself strategically to appear as a leaf or twig, the mantis is able to gain the advantage of surprise. By striking its prey unawares, the prey is less likely to take evasive maneuvers and avoid capture.

Camouflage

 

Distract and Confuse

Distraction Technique

The tactic of distract and confuse is employed by the praying mantis under a variety of circumstances. When approached by a predator, the mantis may rear up and rattle its wings in a threatening manner. The mantis may also wave its long forelimbs about in a hypnotic and confusing pattern. This same tactic has been observed during the mating dance by the male mantis.

 

Hook, Grasp, and Strike

Mantis Hook Grasp and Strike

The praying mantis possesses modified raptorial forelimbs that are especially adapted for grasping and piercing their prey. When an insect comes within their striking range the mantis can often be seen to move in a pendular manner, rocking side to side, in order to measure the distance for its strike. When the moment is right, the mantis will flick out both forelegs attempting to snag its prey with the extended hooks on its limbs, and then will snap the trap shut as its forelegs close on its prey. Under laboratory circumstances, the mantis was measured to have a successful capture-strike 20% of the time. From personal observation, the mantis will typically attempt to gain a controlling position with its grip from the beginning, often clasping its prey behind the neck, and controlling the wings and limbs simultaneously.

Pounce

Some mantids like to pounce on their prey, while others are more content to wait until the prey comes within reach. This appears to be an individual difference between mantids, even of the same species. From personal observation, some mantids will actively creep up on their unsuspecting victims, and then will jump the last distance for the capture. This pouncing maneuver is also effective during reproduction.

Flying Tenodera Mantis

Evade

Evasion is a typical response of the mantis to an aggressor and is an observable behaviour even in 1 day old mantis nymphs. When approached, for example with a finger, the mantis will react instantly by releasing its perch and dropping to a safer place. The mantis nymph is aerodynamically light and seems to float downwards to its next perch. Another example of evasive maneuvers has been well documented scientifically.

The mantis has an ultrasonic frequency detection 'ear' located on the underside of its thorax. When it is exposed to ultrasound (such as the tones employed by bats, a primary mantis predator) if it is flying, it will immediately change the angle of its wings to create a downward spiralling descent (much like the helicoptering of elm tree seeds); an erratic and unpredictable evasive maneuver. By employing camouflage upon landing, the mantis can quickly fade into the background and is tough to track down, especially for a flying predator that has just lost sight of the evasive insect.

This praying mantis tactic was described in an online article in National Geographic.

Camouflage

Camouflage

Camouflage is a tactic employed by all varieties of mantis. Some mantids have very elaborate camouflage that entails a vivid representation of their environment on their exoskeleton.The orchid mantis, for example, possesses intricately designed limbs that are coloured precisely like that of the plant on which it spends much of its life.

Another clever aspect of mantis camouflage, is the bodyshape of the nymphs of certain South American species of praying mantis. These nymphs appear similar in shape to ants that are very common to their habitat. This visual deception leads to predators avoiding them and also contributes to their ability to avoid being eaten by other ants. Such camouflage is known as "aposematic" colouring and involves the use of colour and shape to mimic an animal that is dangerous or worth avoiding. In this case, the ants that are being imitated have high levels of formic acid in their bodies which makes them indigestible and awful tasting. The camouflage of the mantis that enables it to immitate a leaf or twig is also useful offensively, as it is capable of ambushing its prey more easily.

Cling and Pinch

The long spines on its forelegs are especially designed to pierce and clasp prey. The praying mantis can offer up a strong pinch, even to the finger of a human. It can draw blood quite easily, but can also climb quite delicately and cling to virtually any surface, including walking straight up a pane of glass. The pinching movement and squeezing of its prey is very effective at halting any struggling or effort of resistance by any victim in its grasp. However, the mantis appears to enjoy eating its prey slowly, and fastidiously, and will often shift its grip precisely to control and pinch its victim, without killing.

Praying Mantis Insect Catches a Monarch

Hunt

Hunting aggressively, when hungry, the mantis will use its excellent eyesight to track a prey that comes within its range. It will then make careful movements to approach within striking range, actively hunting its victim and stalking its prey. In the case of a captive pet mantis, this behaviour is fascinating to watch. WHen a prey species is released into the pet mantid's cage, the hungry mantis will immediately turn its head to follow the motion of the prey. It will then begin to choose its footholds carefully as it begins the patient approach. Wobbling from side to side, much like a blade of grass, or a leaf, the mantis will triangulate the position of its next meal and will actively hunt it down. Upon missing its strike, the mantis will continue to pursue, patiently, and will set itself up for the next opportunity. The final movements of the hunt are typically precipitous, often involving a lightning fast movement that is difficult to trach visually for a human eye. The many ways in which the mantis insect hunts, and the variety of styles of the hunt that it exhibits, are fascinating aspect of this unique insect's behavour, and are well worth studying.

Mantis Feasting

 

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