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Praying Mantis (Mantis religiosa)

Detailing the physical features, habits, territorial reach and other identifying qualities of the Praying Mantis.

 Updated: 6/5/2019; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ¬©

The Praying Mantis is an incredible blessing for gardeners and farmers thanks to its mammoth appetite for plant-destroying pests.

The Praying Mantis was discovered in the United States in 1899. It came from Europe likely via trade transports across the Atlantic. They are highly recognizable creatures, mainly because of their odd shape. Their bodies are relatively large and long with four legs at the abdomen area and two larger legs that appear more like arms. The large Praying Mantis (not 'Preying' although it does that very well) got its name from these two forelegs. When resting, these front legs are held in a way that makes them seem folded in prayer. Those powerful front legs are able to hold down an insect as the mantis eats it alive. The mantis' mouth parts are capable of cutting through the tough exoskeleton of insect prey. They come in a variety of colors, ranging from bright green to dark brown. Like all mantises, or mantids as they are also called, the female is larger than the male, especially in the abdomen. They are hefty insects and females are unlikely to fly because their wings are not able to hold their weight very well. Females can use their wings to scare off would-be predators by fanning them open while raising their 'arms'. The pose startles some predators away, saving the mantis. Smaller males can and do fly. After mating, females have been known to eat the male after reproduction, but that does not always happen. Both genders have binocular vision; one eye can look in a different direction from the other. They appear to have tiny pupils, but those black dots are actually photoreceptors reflecting no light colors. These pseudopupils give an observer the impression of being watched.

Females lay their flat, seed-shaped eggs on a twig in autumn. The freshly laid eggs are then coated with a hard foam that helps the eggs maintain moisture during dry winters, and deters birds and other insects from bothering them as well. In spring, the eggs hatch and pale nymphs, shaped like miniature adults, emerge and immediately begin feasting on smaller insects and sometimes each other.

Mantids are extremely beneficial in gardens. They eat a large volume of pest insects and can be a farmer or gardener's best friend because they help remove infestations of wasps and beetles. A Praying Mantis and even unhatched eggs can be purchased in the spring and released onto a plant in a garden in order to head off any pests that arrive before summer. Larger species of the Mantid family have even been known to eat frogs, lizards, and hummingbirds.

Catching a glimpse of a Praying Mantis is a special thing, but leave it where it is if it has not flown away. It does a great service for growers and is a benefit to the ecosystem. Consider just admiring them, and capture only their photograph.

Taxonomic Hierarchy
Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Arthropoda
    Class: Insecta
      Order: Mantodea
        Family: Mantidae
          Genus: Mantis
            Species: religiosa
Identifying Information
Scientific Name: Mantis religiosa
Other Name(s): European Mantis, Mantid
Category: Mantid
Size (Adult; Length): 50mm to 75mm (1.95in to 2.93in)
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: green, yellow, white, red, brown
Descriptors: praying, long, stick
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Territorial Reach (A-to-Z)
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Note: An insect's reach is not limited by lines drawn on a map and therefore species may appear in areas, regions and/or states beyond those listed above as they are driven by environmental factors (such as climate change), available food supplies and mating patterns. Grayed-out selections indicate that the subject in question has not been reported in that particular territory. U.S. states and Canadian provinces / territories are clickable to their respective bug listings.