Praying mantises are fascinating insects with their unique appearance and hunting abilities.
They are known for their large, elongated bodies, grasping front legs, and flexible necks that enable them to look over their shoulders 1.
These characteristics make them skilled predators, hunting various insects and even small vertebrates 2.
Debating whether praying mantises are dangerous might depend on the perspective taken.
For gardeners, these insects can play a role in natural pest control by hunting and consuming smaller insects that are harmful to plants 3.
However, their voracious appetite also means they might prey on beneficial insects like bees and butterflies, which raises concerns about their impact on garden ecosystems.
In terms of danger to humans, praying mantises are generally not considered a threat.
They may exhibit defensive behavior if they feel threatened, but this usually involves raising their front legs to make themselves appear larger, rather than actively attacking 4.
Overall, these fascinating insects are more helpful than harmful in most situations, but it’s essential to consider their potential impact on both harmful and beneficial insects in the environment.
Understanding Praying Mantises
Praying mantises are unique creatures with quite a distinctive appearance.
They have long, narrow bodies and are typically brown, green, or yellowish in color, allowing them to camouflage well with leaves and trees.
This color variation can be seen within a single species, such as the California mantid.
Mantises have two sets of wings: the front wings are leathery and narrow, while the back wings are more delicate.
They also possess powerful raptorial legs with spikes, which enable them to effectively grasp prey.
Notably, these insects have a flexible necks and can swivel their head up to 180 degrees, offering enhanced eyesight and awareness of their surroundings.
Species and Distribution
There are several species of praying mantises, with the best known being the European mantis (Mantis religiosa).
They can be found in a variety of habitats, including forests and grasslands. Mantises from the Mantidae family are widely distributed across different continents, with some species native to Southern Africa.
Examples of different mantis species and their distribution:
- European mantis (Mantis religiosa): Europe and North America
- California mantid (Stagmomantis wheeleri): Western United States
|European mantis||Europe, North America|
|California mantid||Western United States|
Mantises play a significant role in maintaining the balance of ecosystems, as they are voracious predators of other insects and sometimes even small vertebrates.
Their assault on other insects helps control the population of potential pests, making them beneficial for gardens and agricultural fields.
Overall, praying mantises are fascinating insects with unique physical characteristics and a wide distribution across various regions.
Praying Mantis Behavior
Hunting and Diet
Praying mantis are well-known for their hunting skills and voracious appetite. They are generalist predators that target a wide variety of prey, including:
- Smaller insects
Their hunting technique involves patiently waiting and stalking their prey with their raptorial front legs.
Once in range, they swiftly snatch and grip their meal with their strong forelegs. They have even been known to catch hummingbirds and snakes in some instances.
|Grasshoppers||Small to medium|
|Beetles||Small to large|
|Spiders||Small to medium|
|Bats||Small to medium|
Aggression towards humans or pets is unlikely. Rather than attacking, mantids will typically avoid confrontation and flee from larger animals.
Reproduction and Sexual Cannibalism
The mating behavior of praying mantis is unique, involving a process known as sexual cannibalism.
During copulation, the female mantis may attack and consume the male, often starting by biting off his head.
|Female gets a nutritious meal to benefit egg development.||Male dies.|
|Male’s sacrifice may increase the chances of his genetic material being passed down.||Risk of aggression may deter some males from approaching females.|
|Population growth may be impacted with high sexual cannibalism rates.|
Despite the risks, male mantids will often seek out a female to continue the reproduction process.
Some theories suggest this behavior has evolved as an adaptive strategy to ensure the survival of the species.
Are Praying Mantis Dangerous?
Danger to Humans
Praying mantises are not considered a significant threat to humans. They are not venomous, and their bites are not poisonous.
However, if you handle a praying mantis without gloves, it may bite you in self-defense.
Although this bite can cause pain, it is unlikely to result in serious harm.
Some examples of situations that may provoke a praying mantis to bite include:
- Picking up the insect without wearing gloves
- Disturbing a praying mantis while it is eating
- Disrupting its habitat
To avoid bites, it’s best to observe praying mantises from a safe distance and avoid handling them whenever possible.
Danger to Other Animals
Praying mantises can be dangerous to other small animals, particularly insects and small vertebrates such as frogs.
They are skilled predators that use their front legs to capture and hold their prey.
In some cases, they have even been observed attacking and consuming small birds.
One of the defense mechanisms that praying mantises employ is their ability to blend in with their surroundings.
This makes them highly effective hunters and difficult for other animals to avoid. Some features of praying mantises as hunters include:
- Large, forward-facing eyes for excellent depth perception
- Ability to swivel their head, allowing them to visually monitor their surroundings
- Camouflage capabilities to blend in with leaves, flowers, and other environments
Scientists have found that praying mantises play an essential role in controlling insect populations and maintaining ecological balance.
However, their predatory nature can also make them a threat to beneficial insects and other small animals.
Comparison Table: Praying Mantises vs. Other Insects
|Praying Mantises||Other Insects|
|Size||2 to 5 inches long||Varies depending on species|
|Danger to humans||Low (may cause pain from bites)||Variable (some can be venomous and harmful)|
|Diet||Predatory||Varies (herbivorous, carnivorous, and decomposers)|
|Camouflage||High (ability to blend in with surroundings)||Variable (depends on species)|
Interesting Facts and Myths
Praying mantis holds a unique place in various cultures. In ancient Greece, they were believed to have supernatural powers.
In China, they symbolized fearlessness, patience, and martial arts.
Some fascinating examples of cultural significance include:
- Ancient Egypt: They were associated with patience and wisdom.
- Japan: They symbolized strength and calm focus.
Praying mantis exhibits various adaptations, setting them apart from other insects.
Camouflage: To blend with their surroundings, they often mimic leaves or sticks.
Biting: When threatened, they can deliver a painful bite, but it’s not venomous.
Some astonishing characteristics of a praying mantis are:
- Exceptional vision with their compound eyes
- The ability to rotate their heads 180 degrees
- Unique raptorial front legs to catch prey
Comparison of praying mantis with related arachnids and other insects:
Praying mantis’s adaptations make them efficient predators. For example, their diet includes arachnids and cockroaches.
However, in captivity, they rarely pose a threat to humans and are not known to bite unprovoked.
Pros of keeping praying mantis as pets:
- Low maintenance
- Unique and fascinating creature
- Natural pest control
Cons of keeping praying mantis as pets:
- May bite when handled roughly
- Short lifespan (1-2 years)
- Specialized feeding requirements (live insects)
Despite some myths, praying mantis isn’t dangerous to humans.
While they exhibit incredible adaptions like digestion, allowing them to eat other insects and arachnids, they are generally harmless when encountered in the wild or kept in captivity.
Praying Mantis Benefits and Risks
Benefits for Gardens and Ecosystems
- Predatory insects: Praying mantises are beneficial predators in gardens and ecosystems. They help control populations of other insects that can be harmful to plants.
- Camouflage: Praying mantises use camouflage as a defense mechanism, blending into their surroundings, such as stems and leaves with various colors and patterns.
Some examples of pests that praying mantises eat in gardens include:
Risks and Considerations
- Bite risk: A praying mantis can bite humans if mishandled or provoked, but it is not considered dangerous.
- Danger to pets: They can hurt small pets, like lizards, if they mistake them for prey. Keep small pets away from praying mantises to avoid any potential danger.
|Benefits||Predatory insects, Control pest populations, Help the ecosystem|
|Risks||Can bite if provoked, Danger to small pets|
It’s essential to weigh the pros and cons of having praying mantises in your garden or home environment and decide if the benefits outweigh the risks.
Praying mantises are fascinating insects that have many benefits for humans and the environment. They are natural predators of many pests, such as aphids, mosquitoes, and flies.
They also pollinate flowers and provide food for other animals, such as birds and spiders.
Praying mantises are not dangerous to humans, unless they are provoked or mishandled. They may bite or pinch with their forelegs, but their bites are not venomous and rarely cause any harm.
Praying mantises are not endangered, but they face threats from habitat loss, pesticides, and climate change.
Therefore, it is important to protect and conserve these amazing creatures, and appreciate their role in the ecosystem.
Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about praying mantises. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.
Letter 1 – Giant Asian Mantis from Hawaii
Subject: Praying mantis
Geographic location of the bug: Oahu, Hawaii, USA
Time: 12:57 AM EDT
Hello I was wondering what type of mantis these are. I have searched your website and haven’t found it exactly. Using google images I’ve determined it is in the hierodula genus but not the exact species.
In the past week I have found five or six of them all of them being female and I have not found any males in all the time I’ve lived here so I am curious if they are parthengenic. Thank you in advance for helping me
How you want your letter signed: Colin
One of the biggest problems with trying to identify Insects and Arthropods sighted in Hawaii is that many if not most creatures, especially on Oahu, are introduced from other parts of the world.
Based on this FlickR image from Hong Kong, we believe you have correctly identified the genus Hierodula. This unidentified individual from Hawaii on Leigh Hilberts site also looks very much like your individual.
Mantidforum does picture males from this genus, so we do not believe you have a parthenogenic species. It is more likely you have not encountered males that generally do not live as long as female Mantids.
Your submission is our first new posting since our editorial staff returned from holiday.
Comment from Brian Fridie on Facebook: Hierodula patellifera. I would love it I could help in correctly IDing many of the mantids on your site.
We would love to take advantage of Brian’s offer. In the future, please post a comment on the actual posting and we can include corrections and identifications on our site. The editorial staff does not communicate via Facebook.
Letter 2 – Florida Bark Mantid
Subject: Looks like tree bark with 4 legs?
Location: Jacksonville, FL
November 19, 2014 3:24 pm
This bug has been sitting in relatively the same position for two days on the bricks along our window ledge. It’s November in Florida and we just had two cold nights. It looks as if it has only 4 legs. It’s facing down in the photo shown. Curious!
Like other insects, which are known as hexapods, it has six legs, and the raptorial forelegs, which are modified for capturing and holding onto prey, are being held close to the head in your image.
While this individual stands out against the light brick wall, it easily blends in unnoticed when lurking on a tree trunk, making it a very effective camouflage artist.
Thank you for this! What a difference it makes now with this identification and now being able to notice the two front legs tucked underneath.
This mantis was up and walking about within a day of this post. Pretty cool. I appreciate your quick response.
Letter 3 – Florida Bark Mantis
Subject: what is this bug
November 23, 2014 1:15 pm
found in northern florida
found it – Florida bark mantis, gonatista grisea
Your identification is correct. Just three days ago we posted another image of a Florida Bark Mantid.
Letter 4 – Desert Pebble Mantis from Egypt
Subject: What is this insect?
Geographic location of the bug: Sinai Egypt
Time: 06:50 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: Please help Id this insect
How you want your letter signed: James
Letter 5 – Devil’s Flower Mantis from Tanzania
Location: Western pheriphery of Serengeti Ecosystem, Tanzania
January 14, 2016 11:36 am
During November 2015 I spent three weeks eco-touring in N Tanzania.
The prime reason why I joined is because I compile a trip report. I also publish photos from my trips. I want all my published photos to shoe correct name of species. (www.pbase.com/stefan_lithner )
I am doing well with birds and mammals. When it comes to reptiles and insects I´m not so good. I have not tried to identify many of the larger “bugs”.
I found this page when I was looking for a scientific name for Spider(hunting) Wasps.
This species I saw over the banks of suthern Lake Natron in the reat Rift Valley. I have learned there are at least 15 species of SpiderWasps. It is a long shot, but if I am (very) lucky there is only one Spider Wasp hunting over the banks at the edge of southern Lake Natron.
Please note the bug is pearched on an ipod. Photographed Nov 11.
Are you good with scorpions and turtles as well?
I here enclose
The mantis posed on the iPad is a Devil’s Flower Mantis, Idolomantis diabolica, and it really is a distinctive looking insect. There is an amazing image of a Devil’s Flower Mantis in threat position on PhotoNet.
Letter 6 – Devil’s Mare from Israel
Hi Bug guys!
I found a nymph and an adult of this mantis, Empusa fasciata, on a hike to the south of Jerusalem, Israel last weekend (April 11-12). The common local name for it is the ‘Devil’s Mare’. I think the name suits it quite well, don’t you? Feel free to post them on your wonderful site!
Thank you for sending us your awesome Devil’s Mare images, and also thanks so much for sending each of your creatures as a separate email. We will post this for sure, and others when we are able.
Letter 7 – European Mantis
White California Mantis?
Location: San Fernando Valley, CA
August 18, 2010 1:17 pm
I find this bug about once a year here in Chatsworth, CA. Always in parking lots near where people are; grocery store parking lots near the shopping carts is common. Today, in a parking lot by the benches where people sit waiting for their car to be washed.
Sean in CA
Your photograph clearly shows a dark spot on the underarm of this Mantis which inclines us to identify it as a European Mantis, Mantis religiosa, based on this BugGuide identification tip: “According to the Key to Florida Mantids: ‘Front coxa with a large black-ringed spot near base, beneath; green color of tegmen not sharply confined to costal area.’
The noted coxa black spots may, or may not, have a white center or bullseye. In some instances these spots are all dark.” The spot is visible in this BugGuide image.
Letter 8 – Female Mantid is a “Man Eater”
Mantid mating the killing mate
Thought you would like these photos for your sight. After 12 hours of constant copulation, the female bit off the males head, phallus, and ate him from the neck down.
I have the entire sequence, but will send only 2 or three. These were taken with a Nikkon Cool Pix macro camera in sept 05
Sadly only one of your images arrived. We are very eager to get the whole image. Could you please resend them. This sex organ close-up is awesome.
Letter 9 – Femalllllllllle Brunner’s Mantis: Parthenogenesis oddity
Green Walking Stick?
August 25, 2009
I found this “little” bugger by a pool in the DFW area of Texas. He very calmly sat there for 10 minutes while I went to fetch my camera. It was about 6 inches long.
We are quite excited to have received your letter at this point in time as we are currently working on the Bug Love section of our book that is devoted to mating insects. This is a female Brunner’s Mantis, Brunneria borealis. We first posted a photo of a Brunner’s Mantis in September 2005.
According to BugGuide, it is also known as a Walkingstick Mantis (hence your question) or a Northern Grass Mantid which is a bit odd since it ranges in: “Southeastern United States: North Carolina west to Texas.” The reason your letter has us excited is that BugGuide indicates Brunner’s Mantis: “reproduces by parthanogenesis; males are unknown.” This of course demands considerable more research on our part.
Parthenogenesis is virgin birth, and a female Brunner’s Mantis is able to produce an ootheca with viable eggs without ever contacting another member of her species. There was a study on Brunner’s Mantis in 1948 by Michael James Denham White entitled The Chromosomes of the Parthenogenetic Mantid Brunneria borealis in Evolution, vol. 2 (1948), pp. 90-3 and we are trying to get a copy of that paper.
White’s interest in parthenogenesis continued in his study of a South African grasshopper, Moraba (later Warramaba) virgo. An online biography on MJD White states: “In an earlier study in Austin on the mantid Brunneria borealis White had described an exclusive parthenogenetic reproduction system and had pondered on the genetic consequences of parthenogenesis for a number of years. He sent off a short note to the Australian Journal of Science about his discovery, which was published in August 1962.
White enthusiastically took Ken Key, his taxonomist colleague, to look at the all-female population. Key was initially skeptical that this would prove to be a valid species. However, he was soon convinced that no males were present and provided a suitable taxonomic place for the species, with a joint publication in the Australian Journal of Zoology in 1963.” The biography makes a point about White’s pronunciation of the word “femalllllllllle” during his lectures.
Parthenogenic reproduction, though rare in insects, is not unique to the Brunner’s Mantis. Many Aphids undergo both sexual and asexual reproduction at certain seasons and under certain conditions, but the fact that there are no known male Brunner’s Mantis specimens brings up some unusual questions.
We wonder if DNA analysis would reveal that all individuals are identical and originating with an Eve, much the way the DNA of plants started from cuttings are all identical. Every single Sterling Silver rose is genetically identical since they have all been started from cuttings of the original specimen hybridized in 1957 by Gladys Fisher when she crossed Peace with an unnamed seedling.
The interesting case of the Brunner’s Mantis begs the question if there were ever males of the species. It is possible that once the females developed the ability to reproduce without insemination, the then useless males vanished. Without males to change the DNA with each generation, there can be no natural evolution or variation.
Letter 10 – Girls Bug a Preying Mantis
Location: colorado springs colorado
September 24, 2011 12:00 pm
i have to do a project with bugs and im having a hard time figuring out these bugs.
Signature: gigi mcoy
Even though they might be bothering this Preying Mantis, it isn’t nice to call girls “bugs”.
Letter 11 – Double-coned Grass Mantid from Namibia: Episcopomantis chalybea
Subject: Mantis from Namibia
December 16, 2013 8:06 am
Oh yeah, I almost forgot this one.
Not one of the best photos, due to the dark. Unfortunately, I got only one shot.
I guess this is a curled up mantis-like creature. I like the horns next to the eyes.
We have been trying to determine the identity of your Mantis, and because of the unusual horned eyes, we suspect it might be in the genus Heterochaeta which is profiled on the USAMantis site.
Alan’s Arthropods also contains some images that show similar eyes as well as indicating that Heterochaeta occidentalis is found in “Botswana , Kenya, Namibia and South Africa”.
Update: January 11, 2014
Dracus supplied a comment identifying this as Episcopomantis chalybea, and we found a link to a drawing on Tree of Life that supports that ID. There is an image of a Namibian female on World of Mantids.
A beautiful portrait by Piotr Naskrecki, who frequently assists us with Katydid identifications, can be found on National Geographic Creative, and it includes the common name Double-Coned Grass Mantid.
Letter 12 – Garden Praying Mantid Nymph from Australia
What sort of mantis is this?
Location: South Coast, Nsw, Australia
December 4, 2010 11:42 pm
Hey , i found this praying mantis in one of my pot plants and was wondering if anyone knows what sort it is, it was no longer than 25mm i have seen it every day on this same plant for over two weeks and it has not really grown much, any clues to what it is? i was thinking maybe a snake mantid.
Signature: Thanks, Wade.
We believe your nymph looks like the Garden Praying Mantid, Orthodera ministralis, which we located on the Brisbane Insect Website.
Letter 13 – Ghost Mantis from Kenya
Location: Nairobi, Kenya
December 22, 2010 4:31 am
Dear bug man – Found this weird bug in my garden. Thought it was a leaf until it started running around!Do you know what it is? It looks like some sort of praying mantis but not sure.
Thanks a lot
Signature: Jo (My Kenya Info)
You are correct. This is a Preying Mantis, but we haven’t a clue as to the species. We will begin researching this identification post haste. We quickly identified it as a Ghost Mantis, Phyllocrania paradoxa, on the Wild Madagascar website.
According to the Phasmids in Cyberspace website, Ghost Mantids are found in: “Ethopia, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Angola, Guinea, Cape Province, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Transvaal, Uganda, Simbabwe, Guinea, Cape Province, Kenya, Cameroon, Congo, Madagascar, Mosambique, Namibia, Somalia.” Congratulations on sighting this well camouflaged species in the wild.
Super thanks a lot for your interest and enthusiasm! I also have some video footage of it scampering about!
Letter 14 – Devil’s Flower Mantis from Tanzania
Mantis- Arusha Tanzania
Location: Arusha Tanzania. October
October 20, 2011 2:30 am
I would just like to share this picture of a Mantis that found its way into our house. She was non too pleased when I tried to put her outside.
She responded by spreading her wings, then she sat up and turned her raptorial legs outwards to flash an inside streak of blue…quite impressive, very aggressive!
The threat posture seems to be globally universal for many Mantis species when they feel threatened. We will try to identify you species.
The shield structure of the thorax is a significant identifying trait for your individual. It is not pictured on the African Mantis Study Groupwebpage.
Thanks so much Daniel for your email.
I am forwarding some pics of the mantis in different positions if that helps in the identification.
I have lots of interesting photos of invertebrates which I would love to share with the group. I certainly do not expect you to find the species of all of them.
Is there a place on your website that I can post just for the sake of sharing- or is going through the identification request the way to do it?
Once again many thanks- your time is much appreciated.
Hi again Teena,
This is really a beautiful Mantis. We suspect one of our readers might be able to supply an answer in the future. Providing a comment on the posting will allow you to be notified in the future if that identification takes weeks, months or years.
Though our editorial staff does not deal much with the social networking components of the website, we do have active Twitter and Facebook users and the postings there are not controlled, unlike the website proper.
Update: Unknown Mantis identified as Devil’s Flower Mantis
Shortly after posting these photos, Neftali wrote in and identified this awesome Mantis as Idolomantis diabolical.
We did some additional research and learned it is called a Devil’s Flower Mantis. There is a great photo by Igor Siwanowicz on PhotoNet. There is also a nice photo on BioLib and it made the Rogue’s Gallery of the 10 Most Disturbing Bugs on Oddee.
Dear Daniel thank you very much for the identification of this beautiful Mantis as well as all the interesting links. Kind regards Teena
Letter 15 – Ghost Mantis from Tanzania
Subject: Mantis- Mahale Tanzania
Location: Mahale Mountains National Park, Tanzania
September 12, 2012 9:00 am
Hi Daniel, another gorgeous mantid from Mahale Mountains in Tanzania. Picture taken in August. It was about 10cm long. Is it a leaf mantid? Can you tell what species? kind regards Teena
This interesting Mantis is a nice followup to the Devil’s Flower Mantis images you sent last year.
We haven’t the time to research the species at this time, but we are thrilled to post your photos with the hope that our readership might assist in the identification of this nice leaf mimicking Mantis.
Update from Warren
Subject: The ”unknown mantis” on your feed
September 15, 2012 5:59 am
I believe this is one of the three species of Ghost mantis, perhaps Phyllocrania paradoxa.They are abundant in Africa.
Fantastic website, I lose myself for hours. p.s I don’t have permission to use that photo, I was required to upload one to send this info.
Signature: Warren Minns U.K.
We will link to Biodiversity Explorer to confirm the identification.