You might think of them as docile things, moving about slowly, nibbling on orchids or praying for guidance.
But oh...how looks can deceive!
The truth is, mantises are ambush predators with lightning-fast moves.
With their long necks, upright posture, distinct faces, and direct gaze, they’re decidedly charismatic (or terrifying) depending on whether your food or foe. But more than that, they are fascinating creatures that have mastered their place in the natural world.
What is a Praying Mantis? The praying mantids, or praying mantises, are carnivorous insects that belong to the family Mantidae. There are about 2,000 species of mantids. The largest are Tenodera and the Archimantis, which are six inches long! The smallest praying mantis is the Bolbe pygmaea, which is only 2/5 of an inch, or one centimeter.
Unbelievably, some scientists agree that the mantis is closely related to the cockroach...say whaaaaaaat?
The name “mantis” comes from the Greek word for “prophet” or “soothsayer.”
The Carolina mantid is a common insect of Eastern United States.
The European and Chinese species were introduced to the Northeastern U.S. about 75 years ago as garden predators.
It was hoped these natural predators could overtake the native pest population. But, cucarachas never die!
Today, Praying Mantises are commonly found in the southwest United States.
Consider the following facts about this Insect:
They Have Great Vision: Praying mantises possess stereo vision, and thanks to the placement of their eyes, they also have a wide field of vision.
Each of their eyes has a fovea — a concentrated area of photoreceptor cells that lets them focus and track with acuity.
They Are Head Turners Mantises are the only insects capable of turning their heads from side to side. Being able to turn its head without moving the rest of its body is a key advantage for a mantis when hunting, allowing for minimal movement as it sneaks up on prey.
They Are Agile Like Cats To the surprise of scientists filming them, mantises have been found to jump with extreme precision, contorting their body midair to land on a precarious and specific target.
They Make Swift Work of Their Prey Praying Mantises wait to ambush or patiently stalk their prey, but once they’re ready to strike, they do so with lightning speed, attacking with those big front legs so quickly it’s hard to see with the naked eye. In addition, they have spikes on their legs to skewer and pin the victims into place.
They Are Masters of Disguise Praying Mantises are supremely gifted in camouflage. They come in the form of leaves and sticks and branches, like many insects, but also take it a bit further.
Some mantises molt at the end of a dry season to become black, conveniently timing their transformation to coincide with the blackened landscape left by brush fires.
The flower mantises are amazing — some wildly ornate, others looking so convincing that unsuspecting insects come to collect nectar from them ... and then become dinner.
They Only Eat Live Food They are helpful in pest control, since they prey on some potentially destructive insects like beetles, crickets, and grasshoppers, but it's worth noting they aren't picky eaters. They eat helpful insects like native bees and butterflies, so their overall effect on pest control is difficult to predict.
They Are Ambitious Predators Mantises don’t stop at eating insects. They also target other arthropods like spiders, and sometimes even small vertebrate animals.
Some mantises are known to prey on hummingbirds, for example, as well as warblers, sunbirds, honeyeaters, flycatchers, vireos, and European robins, in addition to frogs and lizards.
They Do Have Predators of Their Own Even though they stalk hummingbirds and are masterful hunters, praying mantises are also hunted themselves.
Their predators include frogs, lizards, and birds, as well as certain kinds of spiders.
Finally, Praying Mantis Engage in Risky Sex...for their partners Praying Mantis mothers lay an especially large bunch of eggs, which means they need a lot of food. Which means, unfortunately for their mates, they may literally bite off their head and devour them.Which the female Praying Mantis does about a third of the time.
In the picture above, she's dating three guys. One has already lost his cabeza! The other two might live to see another day - Yet, we...I mean they...still want to be with her! Pendejos!
She may kill her mate during the course of their estimated three-hour mating session (Simon, ese, three hours...Y tú huevon! En cinco minutos? Ya pa que?).
Scientists have determined that a little bit of coital cannibalism may also add to the success of the copulation. That's right ese, even when a Praying Mantis loses its cabeza...the rest of the body just can't stop. What a way to go! Como dice el Smokey Robinson, "The agony and the Ecstasy."