Is it Praying Mantis or Preying Mantis?
Location: Naperville, IL
September 16, 2011 2:33 pm
Hi Daniel~
I was wondering because I have seen it spelled both ways. Wikipedia claims preying mantis is a misspelling, and its scientific name of Mantis religiosa seems to support that. But can there really be an authoritative verdict for the common name of an insect?
Best regards,
Signature: Dori Eldridge

Preying Mantis or Praying Mantis?

Hi Dori,
We just posted a comment about our “error” in using the name Preying Mantis on our site.  The scientific community regulates the official scientific binomial (genus and species) names to avoid confusion, especially since a consistent name can be used regardless of the language that is spoken or written.  Common names generate confusion, but Eric Eaton informed us several years ago about the attempt to standardize common names by the Entomological Society of America.  Wikipedia is not the final word on matters such as this and Wikipedia is not regarded very highly among library researchers and others in research fields, though we admit it can be a helpful source when beginning a research topic.  We prefer the secular verb “prey” because the mantis actually does prey, and it only appears to pray because of the tendency for humans to anthropomorphize their surroundings.

Preying (or Praying) Mantis (or Mantid)

What an elegant reply to my query.  Thank you very much, Daniel!

Update from Dori
September 18, 2011
Goodness!  I actually had not seen it, but then again, neither did I see the September 16th query from Pat, regarding the exact same topic.  My apologies for the redundancy of my post and for the uppity comment it inspired.  I am a bit of a stickler for good grammar, spelling and pronunciation – hence, my original curiosity about the mantis.  You’ve thoroughly explained your reasons for using “preying” rather than “praying”, backed them up with concurring scientific opinion, and in so doing, shown enough thought behind your decision so as to render comments such as Mick’s needless picking.  Is “preying mantis” really redundant, however?  Etymologically speaking, μάντης (mantis) means “diviner” or “prophet” in Greek, so that would suggest that “praying mantis” is the redundant form.  And entomologically speaking, I have been unable to find a definition of mantis that does not include references to both the insect’s predacious nature and the prayer-like position of its forelegs.  So I guess that makes both preying mantis and praying mantis redundant.
All the best,

Location: Illinois

4 Responses to Preying (Praying) Mantis: What's in a Name???

  1. Mick says:

    “We prefer the secular verb “prey”…”

    Well, it’s “praying mantis”, no matter what prefers (a bit arrogantly, I might add).

    I’ve heard people “prefer” to incorrectly pronounce the word “library” as “lie-berry”, but that doesn’t magically change the correct pronunciation. Instead it makes the person seem ignorant, silly, childish.

    Besides, “preying mantis” is redundant.

    • bugman says:

      Dear Mike,
      Thank you for your sharp critical analysis of the personality traits of our editorial staff. Your comment is not the first time we have been challenged because of our opinions. We reserve the right to personal expression on our website and elsewhere, and that includes the right to be playful with the complexity and beauty of the English language. We believe that language should be malleable and that conscious and informed decisions should contribute to the metamorphosis of the spoken and written word. This is different from the degeneration of speech due to sloppy syntax or uninformed pronunciation.
      Now, back to the whole preying versus praying matter: This is not a new debate, and we do not stand alone in the scientific community regarding our preferences. The Smithsonian National Zoological Park online newsletter Zoogoer published an article entitled Preying Mantids: Hiding in Plain Sight by Roberta Brett. Brett wrote: “At rest, the front legs are held in a position we like to call ‘prayerful.’ This characteristic pose inspired Linnaeus to name an Old World species, Mantis religiosa. Its pious appearance may have earned it the title ‘praying’ mantid, but ‘preying’ mantid would be a more accurate term. As orthopterist Ashley B. Gurney wrote in 1951, ‘the only thing mantids would seem to pray for is a square meal.'” Noted entomologist Charles Hogue cited the same Gurney quote in the book Insects of the Los Angeles Basin. Hogue agreed that Preying Mantid would be a more “realistic” name.

  2. Mick says:

    And I see you’ve changed my name as well to suit your preferences.

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