Praying Mantis: An ‘Alien’ Insect Thrives Among Us

You may have heard about the praying mantis and its infamous reputation for sexual cannibalism, but there’s so much more to these fascinating creatures that will leave you in awe. From their lightning-fast strikes to their astonishing mimicry, every aspect of the mantis’s life is bound to amaze you. Join us as we discover some interesting facts about this remarkable insect.

Praying Mantis
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Mantodea

The praying mantis looks like an alien

The praying mantis is a type of insect belonging to the order Mantodea with more than 2,400 species. None of them are endangered species. Typically, mantises measure between 10 and 120 mm in length, with females generally larger than males. However, some tropical species can reach the size of 20 cm (8 inches) or more! Notably, the Chinese mantis and Devil’s flower mantis rank among the world’s largest, growing up to 10 cm and 11 cm, respectively.

Their antennae are slender and usually shorter than their body length. Some species have wings and can fly. They possess six legs, with forelegs adapted for capturing prey with rows of sharp teeth. Most of them have brown and green coloration, except for the flower mantis. This type of praying mantis boasts a beautiful and colorful appearance, from pink to purple to orange or yellow.

Praying mantis is related to termites and cockroaches

We often call the praying mantis an alien. Why? It’s because this species possesses extraordinary features not commonly found in other insects.

Eyes: The praying mantis boasts a fascinating eye structure with a total of 5 eyes. It has 2 large compound eyes situated on its head, alongside 3 smaller eyes positioned more towards the middle. The larger eyes are adept at detecting movement, while the smaller ones focus on detecting light. If this is not enough to blow you away, check this out!

The huge compound eyes of praying mantis provide stereo vision, giving the insect a wide field of view to track and capture prey effectively. Within their eyes, there’s a specialized area called the fovea, packed with photoreceptor cells, which enhances their ability to focus sharply and perceive depth. This unique 3-D vision not only helps them judge distances accurately but also allows them to pinpoint the exact position of their prey.

Massive praying mantis
A close up praying mantis face

Head: The insect’s triangular head can rotate up to 180 degrees. This incredible flexibility gives the mantis an almost complete 360-degree field of view. By being able to scan its surroundings without moving its body much, the mantis can stealthily stalk prey. Additionally, this ability allows it to evade potential predators.

Ears: The praying mantis has a unique way of hearing compared to other insects. Instead of traditional ears, it has a special “ear” located in the middle of its abdomen, just ahead of its hind legs. This “ear” uses specialized sensors to detect sounds by picking up vibrations in the air. With this ability, the mantis can locate prey and mates, and it’s even sensitive to high-pitched sounds like those of bats.

Fact: The praying mantis is inspired by many characters in cartoons and movies. Some of them are the Master Mantis from Kung Fu Panda, the Scyther in Pokemon, or the Manny from A Bug’s Life.

They earn their name from their legs

These insects are called so because of their front legs, which fold in a posture resembling prayer. The name “praying mantis” originates from the Greek word “mantis,” which means “seer” or “prophet,” reflecting their distinctive praying-like stance. This unique behavior has intrigued humanity for centuries, leading to various interpretations of its spiritual significance. Here are some praying mantis spiritual significance and natural symbolism.

Fact: There’s a bug that looks like a praying mantis – the mantidfly or mantispids.


These mantises can be found all over the world, except for Antarctica. While most of them are tropical, they also live in forests, grasslands, and deserts. In North America, there are just 18 native species. Most belong to the Mantidae family, making up roughly 80% of all known mantis species. You can often spot them on plants like flowers, bushes, tree trunks, and tall grasses, while some prefer ground habitats.

They are camouflage masters

Praying mantises are known for their incredible camouflage skills, which help them blend into their surroundings and avoid predators while hunting. Their bodies feature intricate patterns, colors, and shapes, allowing them to mimic leaves, branches, twigs, and even flowers or bark.

Some types of mantis even change color to match the environment better, like the orchid mantis. Some choose to molt at the end of a dry season to have a black or brown hue. This conveniently matches the landscape after brush fires or when dead leaves cover the ground. They even make their disguise perfect by swaying from side to side to look like a leaf swinging with the wind.

A pink mantis mimics an orchid

Thanks to their ability to stay perfectly still for long periods, they become nearly impossible to detect, even when observed directly. Thanks to this ability, these species rank rank among the top predators in the insect world.

Here are two excellent examples of mimicry in mantises. The orchid praying mantis, with its pink and white coloring, perfectly resembles an orchid flower. It even changes its color to match the background. Meanwhile, the conehead mantis, native to Turkey and Europe, has a spiny crown that helps it blend in with tree foliage.

They are fearsome predators

Praying mantises are carnivorous insects known for their diverse diet. They can eat insects like beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, bees, butterflies, spiders, and occasionally small vertebrates like lizards like snakes, mice, and frogs. Surprisingly, they even consume birds such as hummingbirds, flycatchers, warblers, and more.

Out of 147 recorded instances, 12 species of praying mantises have been observed preying on 24 different bird species, with hummingbirds being their most common targets. These attacks typically target the head, throat, or neck of the birds, with some mantises even resorting to drilling holes to consume their prey’s brain. Now, they’re like the zombies.

Equipped with excellent camouflage and unique adaptations, these mantises are formidable predators that instill fear in their prey. They remain motionless, patiently waiting for their prey to come a little bit closer. And bang, they swiftly capture them in a single snap. They use their mouth with strong mandibles which are sharp jaws (instead of teeth) to chew and tear their food.

With their large, powerful front legs, mantises strike with remarkable speed and precision, often too quick for the human eye to catch. These legs are not only fast but also equipped with spikes, allowing mantises to capture and pin down prey even larger than themselves. Their ability to make sudden movements and swift changes in direction makes them highly effective hunters in their natural environments.

These scary praying mantis do not only passively wait for their prey, but they also actively hunt food by approaching their prey silently. Their agility and flexibility help them move into perfect positions for attacking. What’s more, mantises have 3D vision, allowing them to accurately gauge distances and make pinpoint strikes.

The mantises may seem formidable, but they still have quite a few enemies like spiders, frogs, birds, lizards, hornets, ants, and bats. Ironically, these predators can also end up becoming prey themselves—it’s all a matter of size. The bigger one usually wins. The young mantises are more vulnerable than the adults due to their small size.

When disturbed, they typically freeze or swiftly move out of sight. They may also respond with aggressive displays, flash warning colors, or release noxious odors as additional defense mechanisms. To deal with enemies like bats, they use their keen ability to detect echolocation sounds, mantises can execute evasive maneuvers like spirals, dives, and loops to dodge attacks. If caught, they fiercely resist by slashing with their spiky front legs. However, when dealing with the hairworm parasite, they’re totally defeated. This is how hairworms turn praying mantises into puppets.

Fun fact: The mantis’s hunting technique is so effective that it inspired the development of a fighting style based on it, known as the praying mantis fighting style.


These creatures are often solitary and may be territorial. They’re active both during the day and at night. Despite not being strong fliers, they can fly short distances, glide, or hover, particularly when evading predators or hunting. Their jumping ability is remarkable, allowing them to precisely maneuver midair to land on specific targets.

Negerian flower mantis

Praying mantis is not dangerous to humans and animals like dogs and cats, although they have spikes on their forelegs. They may bite you if feel threatened, but their bites are not venomous and pose little harm. These species don’t hibernate since they can make it through the cold winter.

They eat their mate after mating

During the fall, praying mantises enter their mating season. In some cases, the female mantis may engage in sexual cannibalism, where she eats the male while or after mating. However, this behavior doesn’t happen to all praying mantis types, occurring in about 13 to 28% of mating encounters.

During this act, the female may bite off the male’s head, a process that can take hours while the male continues attempting to mate until death. So, do male praying mantises know they will die? Not really! They’re driven by the instinct to find a partner to mate. Mantises are not the only species that have this behavior. Many  animals eat their mate after mating.

So, why does the female do this? It’s believed that the female eats their mate for extra protein and nutrients to support egg production. A 2016 study revealed that females who engaged in cannibalism produced more eggs compared to those who did not, indicating a potential link between this behavior and reproductive success. However, not all female mantises exhibit this behavior, and its occurrence can fluctuate based on factors like food availability and population density.

After mating, the female mantis lays hundreds of eggs, which she carefully attaches to a twig or stem. She covers them with a protective frothy substance secreted from her abdomen, forming what is called an ootheca. This casing which looks like a cocoon shields the eggs from predators, weather changes, and other dangers. A single female mantis can produce multiple oothecae from just one mating session. Females may die as early as 2 weeks after laying eggs. But when kept as pets, they may survive for a period ranging from 2 to 3 months.

praying mantis egg case - ootheca
The life cycle of praying mantises has 3 life stages: eggs, nymphs, and adults.

This ootheca hardens over time, creating a sturdy shelter that can endure for months or even years. You can find these egg sacks in winter. In spring or summer, the eggs hatch and give birth to tiny praying mantis nymphs.

Initially, newly hatched mantis nymphs stay close to their egg casing. During this time, they may engage in cannibalism, attempting to feed on their siblings. As the baby mantises disperse, they transition to hunting small insects like fruit flies.

Mantis nymphs can have different colors than adults and often look like ants. As they grow, the young shed their exoskeleton several times. This molting process can occur anywhere from 5 to 10 times before these juveniles become adults. Once they reach adulthood, most mantises have wings, but some, especially females, may remain wingless or have short wings. The lifespan of a praying mantis varies by species, about 6 – 12 months, however, some species can only live for about 2 months or less. In captivity, their life expectancy is longer, about 12 -18 months.

They are good for your garden

Praying mantises are beneficial species. They will eat pests like grasshoppers, aphids, crickets, mosquitoes, mites, stink bugs, and beetles. However, they also eat good insects like native bees or ladybugs. One specific type, the Carolina mantis, holds the distinction of being South Carolina’s state insect. It plays a crucial role in pest control throughout North America, safeguarding flowers and crops. Typically growing up to 2 inches long, this species contributes significantly to maintaining ecological balance.

Attracting praying mantises to your garden can be beneficial for natural pest control and biodiversity. Here are some tips to attract them:

  • Plant diversity: Create a diverse garden with a variety of plants, including flowers, herbs, and shrubs. This diversity attracts a range of insects, which in turn can attract mantises.
  • Avoid pesticides: Minimize or eliminate the use of chemical pesticides in your garden. Pesticides can harm mantises directly or indirectly by reducing their food sources.
  • Provide habitat: Include features like tall grasses, shrubs, and small trees in your garden to provide shelter and hiding places for mantises. They often prefer dense vegetation for hunting and protection.
  • Selective pruning: Avoid overly aggressive pruning practices to allow some plant debris to accumulate, providing additional habitat and potential food sources for mantises.
  • Strategic lighting: Outdoor lights can attract insects at night, which in turn can attract mantises. You can use motion sensor lights instead of leaving them on continuously to avoid disturbing natural behaviors.

The insects are often kept as pets. If you like this insect and want to keep them, you can check our tips to create the perfect home for your praying mantis.



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We are passionate animal enthusiasts with over a decade of experience studying animals. With a degree in zoology and conservation biology, we've contributed to various research and conservation projects. We're excited to bring you engaging content that highlights the wonders of the animal kingdom. We aim to inspire others to appreciate and protect wildlife through informative content grounded in expertise and passion. Join us as we delve into the captivating world of animals and discover the incredible stories they have to tell.

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