The Praying Mantis (Mantis religiosa)

When I was about 6 I had my first exposure to the strange relationship between mating praying mantis’ which gives a different meaning to “praying.”  While gardening, my father happened upon a pair of mating praying mantises. That was not the strange part. The odd behavior occurred after the mating. Once finished, the female proceeded to murder her mate by eating his head. This shocked me.  I had never seen anything so violent. My father then explained the female’s reasoning. If she did not kill her mate now, her mate would later kill their young. This was my first introduction to the circle of life.

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Though it would seem that “Preying” Mantis would be a more appropriate title for the Praying Mantis, its original name fits well. Since its prominent front legs are bent and held together at an angle, they suggest the position of prayer. Ironically, they are one of the most formidable predators in the insect kingdom. They have triangular heads poised on a long “neck,” or elongated thorax. Praying Mantises can turn their heads 180 degrees to scan their surroundings with two large compound eyes giving them a huge advantage when hunting. Typically green or brown and well camouflaged on the plants among which they live, mantises lie in ambush or patiently stalk their prey. They use their front legs to snare their prey with reflexes so quick that they are difficult to see with the naked eye. Their legs are further equipped with spikes for snaring prey and pinning it in place.Their diet usually consists of moths, crickets, grasshoppers, flies, other insects, and, as previously mentioned, other praying mantises.

The most common species of Praying Mantis, Mantis religiosa, is not threatened. In fact, this particular species is so common that it is often sold as pest control for gardeners. However, other species of the 1800 species of Praying Mantis are threatened mainly due to habitat destruction.