Praying Mantises – A Quick Guide

What is a praying mantis?

A praying mantis is an insect with 2400 species found worldwide. Depending on their environment they adapt for camouflage resulting in some truly spectacular colorations. They are known for their hunting ability within the insect world and some species have become popular pets. They have very expressive and notable bulging eyes which gives them a lot of character. In this introduction, some of the most popular questions about these intriguing insects are answered.

How did praying mantis get their name?

They get their name from their unusual stance and posture. The way they hold their forelegs resembles a praying posture. These barbed forelegs are used for preying and other insects.

Do mantises bite?

No, praying mantises do not usually bite humans. They are classified as non-aggressive insects and will not harm you. So do not be too scared if you come across a mantis while gardening.

However, since the mantis feeds off of live insects, they are fierce hunters and their front legs are covered with barbed teeth that can sink into the skin. They also have sharp mouths which they use to tear the flesh off of insects. 

But unless provoked, they can identify their food very well and will not harm humans. The only cases in which they might harm you is if your finger looks like food or they are provoked.

Do mantises make noise?

Yes, praying mantises do make noise. This sound is produced from the air being pumped out of the abdomen of the praying mantis. Some species also use their wings to produce sound. They shake them and rub them against each other to produce noise from the friction.

Praying mantises make sounds to scare off any potential threats. They do this when they are scared or feel afraid. They make a hissing noise, like a snake. Some of them might even make a cricket-like noise, depending on what species they are. If you are unfamiliar with the sound, think of the sound your phone might make in vibration mode, it is sort of like that.

 Do mantises sleep?

Yes, mantises are one of the few insects that sleep. People who have praying mantises as pets will often tell you that they find their pets asleep. Some people may even get worried, thinking that the mantis has died. But it is pretty common.

Mantises droop downwards and respond less to stimuli. However, since insects like the praying mantis do not have eyelids, they do not necessarily close their eyes as we do. As mantises use camouflage to protect themselves from predators and stay very still, this response can also easily be confused with sleeping.

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Do mantises eat ants?

Yes, they will eat ants. The main food source of mantises is bugs and insects of various kinds. Smaller mantises will eat live ants, but as they grow older and bigger they aim for even bigger insects and bugs.

Though harmless to humans, they are ferocious hunters in the realm of insects and will chew ants alive. If caught by one, the ants have no way to escape and it is a death sentence for them. Because of their amazing camouflaging abilities, ants barely see them and crawl right into them. So mantises do not even have to look for ants.

Do mantises eat plants?

No, praying mantises are carnivores and will not eat plants. They love the meat of insects and tear off the flesh with their sharp mouths. They will even feed off of other carnivores and herbivores. But they tend to dislike plants and leaves.

However, they do eat the pollen found in different flowers. Especially during seasons like fall, when it can get hard for them to hunt insects, the shortage of food forces them to find other alternatives. They eat pollen, which is a high source of protein, and also wait for other insects that come to flowers to feed.

What else do mantises eat?

The main diet of mantises consists of insects, bugs, flies, etc. They usually only feed on live insects, ranging from butterflies, spiders, caterpillars to even beetles. Captive mantises will also feed most insects that are slightly smaller than them. 

The amazing thing about mantises is their appetite. They are not afraid of size, and will often try to feed off insects bigger than them. They are even known to feed off of hummingbirds, reptiles, and sometimes even other mantises. They are ferocious hunters and have strong attacking strategies that help them lock in their prey. 

Do mantises have wings?

Yes, mantises have wings, but not all of them. Some of them may have it, others may not.  They are classified into three different types based on the presence of wings. These are macropterous which are long-winged mantises, macropterous which are vestigial-winged mantises, and finally apterous which are mantises that have no wings.

Most adult males have wings, while the females might or might not have them. The females also usually have smaller wings. Their forewings are usually hardened to protect the wings at the back. This hardening can be used to differentiate mantises from Mantidflies, which do not have them. 

Do mantises change colors?

Yes, praying mantis can change color. But it is very slow and gradual and only occurs after they have shed their skin. It is also not very significant, as the changes are not drastic like that of a chameleon but subtler, like brown to tan, or green to brown.

While they are generally brown or green, they can adapt to their environment and change their skin tone to match more of their surroundings. As they use camouflage for protection and to hunt prey, they tend to take advantage of their surroundings by blending in. However, they will try to rest on surroundings that match their body color, instead of changing their color to match the surroundings.

Do mantises drink water?

Yes, they do drink water. They tend to get their required water intake from water droplets on the surface of plants or whatever environment that they are living in. They need water in very little amounts and can go for long durations without it. Their exoskeleton allows them to lose very little water throughout the day.

If you have a pet mantis, squirting their tank or whatever you are storing them in with water once or twice a day is enough. Even though they can go weeks without water, this can vary significantly depending on how hot or humid their surroundings are. They also get water or moisture from their prey. So try to regularly spritz your mantis to keep them healthy.  

Do mantises eat their mates?

Yes, mantises are famous for eating their mates after sex. Especially female mantises are known to feed on their mates, however, the males of the species also do this. They are usually starving, before intercourse and therefore more likely to feed off their partner. In some cases, the females would rather eat the male rather than mate with it.

This form of sexual cannibalism is beneficial to the mantis, as it improves the growth and overall health of the mantis. However, it is interesting to note that this is not a necessity. Many males do complete copulation without getting eaten and will continue mating with others.

Do mantises fly?

Yes, most male mantises have wings and can fly. However, the female species of the mantises, regardless of whether they have wings cannot fly. Young mantises, on the other hand, do not yet know how to fly and they do not yet have wings. These will develop as they grow older.

However, the flight of the praying is not too strong and they can seldom fly for long distances. It can rather be defined as jumping. But they do this very quickly. They tend to twist their bodies while landing, which improves aim and they can land easily on their targets. 

How long do mantises live?

Mantises can live anywhere from eight weeks up to four to six months or even a year, depending on their species. Smaller ones will tend to survive much less than bigger ones. 

They will usually live longer lives in captivity or as pets rather than in the wild. They have more chances of getting eaten in the wild, by other hunters, or even by other mantises. This is why they have a shorter lifespan in the wild. They can be easy to keep as pets as they are not much of a commitment, though if you get attached it might be hard to say goodbye so soon.