so how is it really spelled?
Help! I just bought a "bug" book for my 5 year old nephew and the spelling is different from what I learned. I was taught to spell: Preying mantis in my entomology class but on your web page it is spelled both ways and there is even a site that says although the insect does prey, it is pray. I really don’t want to give the little guy a book that is wrong so I really need to know. Thanks

Neither is truly correct as this is a common name. Scientific binomial names are the only true correct identifications.

Having taught comparative anatomy for over 25 years, I am well aware of scientific binomial names. You, however, do allow both spellings (which you now tell me are incorrect!) on your web site. I assumed that you would be able to tell me which (for a 5 year old!) would be the correct or preferred spelling for a common name. I will have to seek advice from another source.
Pam Rhyne, PhD
Professor Emeritus of Biology

There is no need to get snippy Pam. As you noticed, we use both spellings on our site. You didn’t even bother to ask if mantid was correct or if mantis is correct. When it comes to common names, as you are well aware because you teach comparitive anatomy, every language on the planet has a different common name for a creature and Eskimo people have over 200 words for snow, hence the reason for the scientific binomial system. In Norway, they call the preying mantis a “kneeler”. In a language as complex as English, and in a country as diverse as America where there are multiple dialects, one state might have a different name for the same object. In certain parts of the country, soda is called pop. We would hate to have to decide which is correct. At some point, preference must take precedance. We prefer “preying” because we like to distance ourselves from the religious connotation and believe it is more accurate to say that the creature does, in fact, prey, and without a question, does not pray, even though it appears to pray. The same might also be said of many of our religious leaders who merely appear to pray. When it comes to mantis over mantid, we make arbitrary decisions based on the other words in the sentence, most notably the word immediately following, and we base this decision solely on the audible sound. Not being parents, we hesitate to give parenting advice, but perhaps it is best to use this as a lesson in diversity or as an explanation that sometimes there is no one correct decision. Have a great day.

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4 Responses to Preying versus Praying?????

  1. Cathy says:

    My grandson, who is 7, and I were discussing this question so I “googled” and found your answer ( below other sites which gave “praying” as the “correct” spelling.). I really like your answer and reasoning however.

  2. Robert Nilsson says:

    I was ordering a praying mantis sculpture online, and noticed that they spelled it “preying mantis”, which I believe(d) ? to be “incorrect”! I mentioned to my wife that it was misspelled and she disagreed. I turned to Google to once again settle an argument! I am quite sure that the most common convention is indeed “praying”, but after reading your delightfully witty and well educated response to Pam Rhyne, PhD ,Professor Emeritus of Biology, I am no longer so certain about which spelling I prefer. Well done!!

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