Praying Mantis: Beneficial Insects

Praying Mantis Facts and Folklore

By George and Becky Lohmiller
July 30, 2019
Praying Mantis

The praying mantis is a beneficial insect that preys on bothersome insects. Explore praying mantis facts and folklore, and learn why you should appreciate having them in your garden!

What Do Praying Mantids Eat?

  • Mantids dine primarily on insects like flies, crickets, moths, and mosquitoes.
  • Because of their voracious appetite for insects, praying mantids are considered a friend to farmers and gardeners as a natural form of pest control.
  • 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.

Praying Mantis Facts

  • Most praying mantids are able to fly, although some females might not be able to.
  • Mantids have  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, praying 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.
  • Female praying mantids sometimes eat their mates.
  • Mantids are found on every continent except Antarctica. Of the 1,800 or so known species, most are between 1–3 inches in length. Some tropical ones may grow to 8 inches or more and can occasionally add hummingbirds to their diet.

Praying Mantis Folklore

  • The French once thought that a mantis 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.

    As with many of nature’s predators, hunters often become the hunted. The mantis’ natural enemies include birds, bats, spiders, snakes, and lizards. With so many enemies to worry about, perhaps praying mantids actually are saying their prayers!

    Learn More

    Find out about other fascinating and beneficial insects like fireflies and dragonflies.

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    Reader Comments

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    Along for the ride ...

    Living in the country a few years back, every spring when I mowed the lawn, a mantis (usually in the young stage) would hop a ride on the hood as if it was guiding me. Sometimes one would get on the steering wheel; I pretended it was driving. They were my buddies, I was proud, felt safe, and I truly miss them.

    Plural of mantis

    FYI - the plural of mantis is not mantis. It is Mantids, although mantises is becoming a little more common these days.

    PENALTY

    When I was a kid I had heard the same thing about killing a mantis (why would you?) as Bud mentions. It would make sense as it's a beneficial insect but I have no idea if it is or was ever true.

    REALLY???

    OMG!!! I think that my head is going to explode from these previous responses! LOL!

    Killing a Mantis

    When I was young, I was told by several people that there is a stiff fine for killing a Praying Mantis. Anyone know about this?

    Questions

    I have a brown greenish praymantus outside on my ac by window is it telling me im pregnant or is it telling me

    so I'm helping my buddy move

    so I'm helping my buddy move and I see one at his house then I come home and there are two here and they both land on me hmm

    Praying mantis

    They also will eat a wort off of you .When I was about thirteen my big brother sat and let one do that to him. My mom told me she didn't know why they did this but most older people she said new this.