What is a Praying Mantis?
A cartoon version of this very helpful bug is a praying grasshopper. Here we wrote all we can figure out about them. They are very shy creatures.
What does it look like?
The praying mantis is a skinny insect with long, curved legs in the front. The position of these legs make the mantis look like it is praying. Most, but not all, mantes (the plural of mantis) are green or brown but some are black or even pink! The mantis uses the colors to blend in with its surroundings to catch prey. Some are so well disguised that other bugs think they are flowers.
Where does it live?
Mantes are found all around the world including North America and Europe. Many different types are found in Asia. Some common species of mantes were introduced to North America from Asia and Europe. Nearly 2,000 species live throughout the world. Most are found in places with warm temperatures. A mantis will often roost in something close to its own body color. Most mantes are green or brown and they perch in grasses, bushes and trees. However, some other species are brightly colored and depend on flowers for camouflage.
What does it eat?
The mantis is a carnivorous ambush predator. Mantes eat other insects which they catch with their spiny front legs. The rows of spines act like hooks, so they can grab and hold their prey. There is almost no way to escape. The mantis' strong arms and hooked claws are a deadly trap. Their camouflage helps them stay hidden and they are so fast they can snag prey in the blink of an eye. Some species of mantes also eat lizards, spiders, other mantes, and even small birds and mice.
How does it defend itself?
When the praying mantis needs to defend itself against predators, it will stand up tall, raise its large front legs, and open its wings to look as big as possible. It uses its front legs not only to catch prey but also to defend itself if necessary. It does this by standing up tall and making clicking noises to frighten its enemies. If that does not work the mantis either flies away quickly or it delivers a powerful punch with its hooked front leg. Although an angry mantis can be frightening, they are generally not aggressive to humans.
What stages of metamorphosis does it go through?
The female lays eggs in the autumn in an egg sack. The eggs prepare to hatch in the spring. When the nymphs hatch, they look like miniature versions of their parents. The new born mantes scamper off to find food. The nymphs may be eaten by bugs, birds or bigger mantes. The nymphs hatch and molt several times before reaching adulthood. But once a mantis becomes an adult it mates, and lays eggs of its own, restarting the mantis life cycle, an endless circle of life.
What special behavior does it exhibit?
The praying mantis depends a lot on camouflage and blending into its surroundings. It will dance to make it look like it is blowing in the wind like a leaf or a twig. A praying mantis can also hold very still to surprise its prey. Some people haven't seen it before, but all mantes can fly. These remarkable talents show that big surprises can come in small packages.
How does this bug affect people?
Some people think mantes are pests. That is only partly true, as mantes often eat helpful bugs like ladybugs. They can be beneficial too! Praying mantes are excellent exterminators. They keep down the population of bugs that are a threat to farming. They can also eliminate bugs with harmful diseases. A master of disguise, the praying mantis can be an able assistant to a farmer or gardener. Look at a bush in your yard, very very carefully. You might find a mantis poised on a leaf if you are very lucky!