The Praying Mantids, or mantises, have fascinated humans throughout time. If you're among the curious, read on . . .
- The French once thought that a mantid would point a lost child home.
- In some parts of Africa, it is considered good luck if one of these curious creatures lands on you.
- The Greek word "mantis" means prophet or seer. Because of the way the insects hold up the fronts of their bodies and position their huge forelegs when at rest, it appears as though they are praying.
Praying mantids are found on every continent except Antarctica. Of the 1,800 or so known species, most are between 1–3 inches in length and dine primarily on insects. Some tropical ones may grow to 8 inches or more and can occasionally add hummingbirds to their diet.
- Mantids have giant, triangular heads with large, compound eyes.
- Their long, flexible necks bend easily, allowing them to turn their heads 180° from side to side, giving them a 300° field of vision. They can spot the slightest movement from 60 feet away.
- The strange praying stance is not an act of reverence but instead the position the fierce predators take while waiting to ambush other insects.
- Their powerful forelegs are armed with rows of overlapping spikes to hold their prey while they devour it with strong, sharp mandibles.
- Masters of disguise, mantids are typically green or brown, but many species will take on the color of their habitat. They may mimic leaves, twigs, grass, and even ants; some tropical species so closely resemble flowers that other insects will land on them in search of nectar.
Because of their voracious appetite for insects, praying mantids are considered a friend to farmers and gardeners. Although they may eat other beneficial insects (and, occasionally, each other), their preference is for the sucking and cutting insects that do the greatest damage to crops.
As with many of nature's predators, the hunters often become the hunted. Mantids' natural enemies include birds, bats, spiders, snakes, and lizards. With so many enemies to worry about, perhaps the praying mantids actually are saying their prayers!