Praying Mantis: Predators of the Garden

Praying Mantis Facts and Folklore

By George and Becky Lohmiller
October 3, 2019
Praying Mantis

Praying mantids are insects that have fascinated humans for centuries with their odd shape. They are also a master predator of the garden. Learn praying mantis facts and folklore.

Sometimes called a beneficial insect, the praying mantis (Mantis religiosa) is actually a generalist that preys on both bothersome insects and beneficial ones. 

    What Do Praying Mantids Eat?

    • A carnivore, mantids dine primarily on insects like flies, crickets, moths, grasshoppers, and mosquitoes
    • They can even feast on prey over three times their size, including small animals such as frogs, lizards, and hummingbirds. 
    • Because of their voracious appetite for insects, praying mantids sometimes are considered a friend to farmers and gardeners as a natural form of pest control. But, keep in mind that they will eat the good bugs, too!
    • The insects will even eat each other!  The female will sometimes eats her mate just after—or even during—mating.
    • 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

    • Mantids are found on every continent except Antarctica. Of the 1,800 or so known species, most are between 1 to 3 inches in length. Some tropical ones may grow to 8 inches or more.
    • Most praying mantids are able to fly, although some females might not be able to.
    • Mantids have triangular heads and 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.
    • They have two large, compound eyes and three other simple eyes located between them.
    • Masters of disguise, praying mantids are rarely seen. They 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.
    • Females will lay hundreds of eggs regulary and the nymphs which hatch looking much like smaller versions of their parents.

    Nature’s Perfect Predators

    • The strange praying stance of the praying mantis is not an act of reverence but instead the position the fierce predators take while patiently waiting to ambush other insects. They are the martial artists of the insect world. 
    • Their powerful forelegs are armed with rows of overlapping spikes to snare their prey and pin it in place while they devour it with strong, sharp mandibles. They use their entire arms like razor blades with reflexes that are so rapid that they are impossible to gauge with the naked eye.
    • With flexible necks and two overdimensioned eyes, the praying mantis fixates the distance to their prey rapidly and three-dimensionally. 

    Non-Native Mantis and Hummingbirds

    • Several non-native species, some introduced in the 1800s to help control insect pests, have become naturalized in North America. The Chinese mantis is one of the largest, growing to more than 4 inches long. This species in particular, perhaps in part because of its larger size, has been known on occasion to catch a hummingbird at a feeder, especially if it is very hungry, or mistakes the bird for a bee or other insect that seeks the sugar water. To avoid this unfortunate occurrence, move any hummingbird feeders away from surrounding bushes and branches, so that the mantis is easier for the birds to see. It also can help to add a broad cover over the top of the feeder, to discourage those mantids that can not fly. If you do see a mantis on the feeder, coax it onto a stick and move it gently away.

    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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      Mantis

      How do they survive the winter? Can they survive inside the house in houseplants? Curious

      Praying Mantises

      The Editors's picture

      Most mantises have relatively short livespans—only about six months, from spring to early fall. In the fall, females lay an egg case containing hundreds of eggs in a sheltered location, from which baby mantis nymphs hatch in the spring. The nymphs spend the summer eating, growing, and breeding to eventually repeat the cycle. 

      They may survive for a little while indoors, but due to lack of food and their naturally short lifespans, they’re unlikely to make it through winter. 

      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.