- Family: Mantidae
- Scientific: Mantis religiosa
- English: Praying Mantis (America: European Mantis)
- Spanish: Insecto de Santa Teresa
Mantises, in general, are often mistakenly referred to as “Praying Mantis” but this is the English name for just one species, Praying Mantis (Mantis religiosa)- Insecto de Santa Teresa, the most common species in Europe.
These solitary insects can grow to a length of around 8cm males / 12cm females and are usually either green or light brown in colour. When they hatch out from the ootheca or egg case during spring and early summer they are only about 4mm in length, wingless, very agile and able to feed on small flies, leafhoppers and aphids.
After hatching, it is necessary to disperse quickly in order to prevent cannibalism by the siblings (as many as 300). They will undergo six moults over the course of the summer before reaching full adult and reproductive age in the early autumn.
Once they have reached adult size the wings will develop, on this species they completely cover the body and this is one way of distinguishing them from other species. Another feature is an eye spot on the inner side of the upper foreleg. These can be used to startle and confuse would-be predators as the mantis raises its forelegs holding them outwards to display these markings at the same time as lifting and flapping its wings.
The males are slender whereas the females have a more bulky appearance. Males will fly to discover a mate and a female may copulate with more than one male.
Soon after copulation the female searches out a site to lay her eggs. This may be on plant material, on a rock or on a building, she may lay two to five oothecas (egg-cases) with between 40 to 300 eggs in each. The male and female will die during the winter but the ootheca forms a hardened shell and will protect the several hundred eggs within until they are ready to hatch as the temperatures rise the following spring.
They wait patiently amongst plants with their front legs folded as if in “prayer”, then grab insects from the air with amazing speed. Generally the prey cannot escape as it is impaled on the foreleg spikes, but to be sure they tend to eat the head and neck first thus immobilising it. All parts of the bumble bee in the photo were eaten, including the wings, legs and fur. If any part is dropped then it is abandoned.
Mantises have highly adapted sensory ability, unusual within the insect world are their large compound eyes with binocular vision and ability to rotate their heads to see around nearly 300º. They have antennae which are used for smell and research has shown that they can detect echolocation of bats via a single ear and spiral out of the air in order to avoid being eaten.
Praying Mantis were accidentally introduced into North America in 1899 on nursery stock plants from southern Europe, their predatory skills were soon appreciated. They have since naturalised and are actively encouraged as pest control for agriculture. However, the mantis doesn’t know the difference so as well as eating insects that could damage crops they will also take beneficial ones such as honey bees.
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