A member of the order Mantodea, there are approximately 1800 species of praying mantis, spread all over the world. The praying mantis is so-called because the ancient Greek name is the mantis; and the praying because its forelegs are held in such a position that it looks like it's praying. Actually the forelegs are used for capturing insects, and they have tiny spikes on them.

Praying mantises are pretty vicious little killers -- at full size they're usually about 7 to 12cm long (that's 2.5 to 3.5 inches for our American friends). They're pretty long and spindly, and they move incredibly slowly when approaching prey. It will then, at lightning speed, grab its prey with its forelegs, rip its head off, and eat it (it's easier that way, the insect struggles less). They are also cannibalistic -- both among developing praying mantises and most famously among adults during copulation. The female during copulation frequently rips the male's head off and proceeds to eat him. This does not always happen, but it does happen quite frequently -- it depends exactly how quick the male is ;-).

They have a lifespan of a little under a year. The female lays eggs in egg cases (called ootheca) with about 70 eggs before winter, dies and then they hatch in spring. The immature mantises don't go through a larval stage; rather they go through about 12 moultings. The females if they can't get a male (I wonder why the males wouldn't be interested) can actually produce eggs through parthenogenesis, but all the offspring are female.


There are also a number of other things named after the praying mantis; most notably a style of kung fu, distinguished by a mixture of slow and sudden rapid movements. If you've ever watched the character Lion in the game Virtua Fighter 3, you'll know what this looks like. They actually hold their hands in a position similar to a praying mantis.

There is also a British rock band called praying mantis.

I love praying mantises and it's a good thing I do because they love my yard!

My large patch of lemon balm outgrew its bounds and spilled over the sidewalk so much I decided to trim it back. This involved not only cutting down huge piles of the herb but a major praying mantis relocation program. I captured and moved to other areas at least 3 dozen of them.

One of the refugees took up residence in a large flower planter on my front porch. She was looking a little thin so I thought I'd provide a free and easy meal. I captured a worm and dangled it in front of her. She reared back and practically fell off the leaf. Praying mantises apparently don't encounter worms in real life. Maybe it looked like a predatory snake.

I just found the first egg case for next year's generation. Praying mantis lay foam around a twig branch that hardens into a golf ball sized mass full of eggs. The young hatch in the spring, the elders die off in the fall or early winter. The males often die at the moment of copulation as the female turns around and eats their head. Praying mantids have this amazing Exorcist type head action, they can turn their weirdly triangular heads almost the whole 180 degrees from front to back. The females die a short while after laying the eggs.

They are wonderful insects to have around as they eat other insects. They are unfortunately non selective and will eat beneficial insects (like lady bugs and sibling mantids) too but overall I think they help keep the harmful insect population in check.

They make great "pets". Kept in an aquarium with plenty of live prey like crickets and moths they will live a full natural life cycle. They also need some plant material to climb on, and lay eggs on. They do lay eggs in captivity. They also need a natural light & dark cycle. They are easily injured with handling and do cling and bite so don't let small children or fearful adults handle them. They can be trained to take live food from a trainer's hand but sometimes miss and nip a live finger instead. My resident praying mantis population is one of the many reasons I don't use insecticides as a rule. If I poison a "bad" bug and a praying mantis eats it the mantis will die too.
I'm at work. I am running around outside like a maniac giving seven year old Avery a piggyback ride.

We find a huge praying mantis.
I am a nerd, so I decide this is an excellent time for a science lesson. This is what is sounds like to Avery:

"Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah...
...and then after they mate, she eats him."

Avery ponders the perils of praying mantis romance for a very long time. Finally, she says, "If I was a praying mantis boy, I would marry a vegetarian."

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