Praying mantids are fascinating insects known for their distinctive appearance and predatory habits. These long, narrow insects have a unique posture with their front legs folded, making them appear as if they are in a state of prayer. Although they are known for their voracious appetite for other insects, many people wonder if these intriguing creatures can bite humans as well.
Contrary to popular belief, praying mantids are generally harmless to humans. They are not venomous, and their mandibles are not strong enough to cause any significant harm or pain. However, if a praying mantid feels threatened, it might try to pinch or bite. In such rare instances, a small, temporary discomfort may be experienced by the person involved.
To put this in perspective, it is important to remember that praying mantids are more concerned with hunting for their insect prey than interacting with humans. They play a helpful role in controlling garden pests and contribute to the natural balance of ecosystems. So, while they might seem intimidating, these impressive predators are a friend to gardeners and should be appreciated for their contribution to a healthy environment.
Praying Mantis Overview
Appearance and Features
Praying mantis are unique insects with a distinctive appearance. They have:
- Alien-like eyes
- A flexible neck
- Six legs
- Modified front legs for grasping prey
- A “praying” pose
These insects can be green or brown, with some species having brown or green papyrus wings. Their front legs are equipped with spikes for catching and holding onto their prey.
Habitat and Distribution
Praying mantis can be found in various habitats, such as:
- Stems and leaves of plants
Their ability to blend in with their surroundings with camouflage is vital for survival. Here’s a snapshot of their habitat distribution:
|Common in gardens
In summary, praying mantises are captivating insects with unique features and a diverse range of habitats. Their appearance and ability to blend in with their surroundings make them fascinating creatures to observe.
Do Praying Mantises Bite?
Bite Mechanism and Effects on Humans
Praying mantises are primarily known for their distinctive appearance and their hunting abilities. Though they are not venomous, these insects do possess powerful mandibles, which they use to capture and consume their prey. When it comes to humans, mantises are mostly harmless. They might bite if they feel threatened or provoked, but the pain is usually mild and doesn’t pose a significant risk. A comparison of their bite mechanism to other insects can be made in the table below:
|Threat to Humans
When and Why a Praying Mantis Might Bite
A praying mantis may bite under specific circumstances. Some of the reasons are listed below:
- Self-defense: If a praying mantis feels threatened by a human or another animal, it may bite in an attempt to escape or ward off the threat.
- Mistaken for prey: Though highly unlikely, a praying mantis may bite if it mistakes a human’s finger or hand for its usual prey.
In general, praying mantises are not likely to bite, and encounters with humans are relatively safe. To avoid provoking a bite, it is recommended to handle these fascinating insects with care and give them plenty of space when observing them in their natural habitat.
Handling and Prevention of Bites
Gardening and Outdoor Activities
Praying mantises are often found in gardens, as they are natural hunters and help control harmful insect populations. They are more active during the summer and fall months. To avoid accidental bites when gardening or engaging in outdoor activities, follow these steps:
- Wear protective gear such as gloves and long socks.
- Be cautious when reaching into plants or bushes where praying mantises may be hiding.
For example, if you notice a noticeable amount of flying insects in your garden during the warm seasons, you may come across praying mantises.
Interaction with Pet Praying Mantises
Some people keep praying mantises as pets, but it is essential to handle them with care and respect. Males are known to have tiny chests compared to females, so it’s important to identify the gender for proper handling.
To prevent bites when interacting with pet praying mantises, consider these steps:
- Wash your hands thoroughly with warm water and soap before handling your pet.
- Slowly and gently pick them up, avoiding sudden movements that might startle them.
|Reduces risk of bites
|Could limit movements
|Minimizes stress to mantis
|Requires more patience
Remember, praying mantis bites are rarely dangerous to humans, but taking proper precautions and being mindful of their natural hunting behavior can help ensure a safe and enjoyable interaction.
Praying Mantis Life and Behavior
Diet and Prey
Praying mantises are known for their distinctive and efficient hunting abilities, focusing primarily on insects like flies, grasshoppers, and spiders. Occasionally, larger mantises are even capable of catching small vertebrates, such as small birds, lizards, and frogs. Predatory by nature, a praying mantis uses its saw-like arms to swiftly capture and securely hold its prey.
By maintaining this diverse diet, mantises serve as a natural form of pest control. They are generally harmless to humans and make for fascinating pets. Some people even keep them specifically to manage garden pests. However, it’s important to note that these predatory insects may also target helpful creatures, such as hummingbirds and butterflies.
Mating and Reproduction
The mating process of praying mantises is quite unique and sometimes perilous for the male mantis. During mating, the female might attempt to eat the male. However, this behavior is observed more often in captivity than in the wild, where the male can escape more easily.
Following mating, female mantises lay their eggs in a protective ootheca, or egg case, which can contain up to 400 eggs. Nymphs that hatch from these eggs are wingless and may cannibalize each other in the absence of other food sources. As they grow, the nymphs molt, eventually shedding their exoskeletons several times before becoming full adults.
Comparison of Female and Male Mantis Traits:
In summary, praying mantises exhibit unique hunting strategies and mating behaviors, contributing to their fascinating natural biology. As predatory insects, they maintain a diverse diet of other creatures, benefitting ecosystems and occasionally even serving as pets or natural pest control. Their mating and reproduction habits display remarkable characteristics, further demonstrating the captivating aspects of these insects.
Cultural and Scientific Significance
In various cultures, praying mantids have played a significant role in folklore and mythology. For example, in South Africa, they are often associated with good fortune and divine intervention. Some people even believe that praying mantis bites can bring luck, although there is no scientific evidence to support this claim.
Praying mantids are also appreciated for their ecological role as natural pest control agents on farms. They are voracious predators, feeding on a wide range of insects that can be harmful to crops. Farmers in many regions worldwide value these insects for their ability to help maintain a balanced ecosystem.
Due to their anatomical features, praying mantids have provided inspiration for numerous scientific applications. Their unique adaptations, such as turning their heads 180 degrees, have inspired the development of modern robotics and other technologies.
Here are some noteworthy features of praying mantids:
- Raptorial front legs
- Excellent eyesight
- Ability to swivel their head 180 degrees
When discussing praying mantids, two primary topics of interest are:
- Cultural significance: Folklore, mythology, and various superstitions
- Ecological importance: Natural pest control agents on farms and balanced ecosystems
In conclusion, praying mantids hold various cultural, scientific, and ecological significance, with their features inspiring everything from ancient martial arts to modern-day robotics. Their presence on farms can help maintain balance and protect crops from harmful pests, fulfilling a crucial ecological role.
Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.
Letter 1 – Immature Spiny Flower Mantis from South Africa
Spikey Purple Bug
August 6, 2009
All I know about this bug is that it is from South Africa. The person who took it thought it was a Preying Mantis, but I’m not so sure. Also, it appears to be standing on some sort of equally strange-looking plant.
This photo is significantly lacking in the type of details that would enable us to determine if the insect is a Mantis, but our first impression is that it is a Mantis. That is a guess and we could not locate any unusual Mantids from South Africa that match this image. We did find a photo on the Animal Photo Album Website that appears to be this Mantis and it is labeled a Pink Flower Praying Mantis, but there is no information as to its origins or scientific name. Can you provide any information as to its size? Perhaps one of our readers can supply us with an identification.
Update from Karl
I believe your mantid is a Spiny Flower Mantis nymph in the genus Pseudocreobotra (Mantodea: Hymenopodidae). It is either P. ocellata (my guess) or P. wahlbergii. The two species are very similar so I can’t say with certainty. Coloration among nymphs seems quite variable, ranging from white to brilliant pink, but there are always some areas with a greenish tinge. The adults look quite different, but are as or even more spectacular. Both species are popular among mantis breeding enthusiasts so there are a lot of photos on the internet. If you type the genus name into the “What’s that Bug” search engine you will find at least four previous postings showing both nymphs and adults. Regards. K
I forgot to add this link to a photo that looks pretty much identical to the one you posted (just a different perspective). You can see that the “spines” are mostly located on the underside of the abdomen which is folded up and over the rest of the body (a common posture for mantids). It does present a confusing image. Cheers. K
Letter 2 – Immature Spiny Flower Mantis from Kenya
Subject: Rare mantis in Kenya?
Location: Sengera Kenya
January 12, 2013 4:29 pm
Hi, I imagine you get lots of common things on here. Maybe this is a common one – or perhaps it is more rare. I have spent some time looking to identify this bug years ago with some colleagues who are big animal fans, but we never identified it just because there are too many. I bumped into your site again by chance and it reminded me of this mystery.
In 2007 I made my first trip to a remote place in Kenya called Sengera which is the heart of the Kisii highlands (Kisii being the nearest big town 16 miles away) as a volunteer in a church charity that provided help for local people. I spotted it because the sun was reflecting off his back like the flash of a diamond ring. I went over and to my amazement it was a tiny mantis. This stunning apparent Pink-purple mantis with his diamond back was camouflaged as a flower and were it not for his ”jewel” I’d never have spotted him. Unfortunately because he was so tiny many of my shots of him were blurred and a close up of the diamond bit on his back (that almost looked like water but I’m sure it wasn’t) After the pictures we put him back and I saw him again the next day. For years we had looked for another one and never found one. All the local people hadn’t seen one before either. Beautiful creature and so tiny.
I also include in another email another much larger mantis discovered in our kitchen that was more common which you might find easier to identify.
Signature: Ben Fiddes
This pretty little Mantis is quite nicely represented in our archives. It is an immature Spiny Flower Mantis in the genus Pseudocreobotra. We still haven’t opened your second email which might be a photo of the adult Spiny Flower Mantis whose appearance is significantly changed after the growth of the wings.
Thanks so much. I can’t wait to share this with my friends. You guys are legends!!
From my friends who have already replied from my email with the find: “…Absolutely fascinating. What amazing creatures. And what a website, thanks very much indeed…”
I should have come ages ago to your site. Kenya doesn’t have many bugs though. I have been all over the country and the climate varies massively so it should be ideal for a huge variety. I think the fact that it much of it is at a high altitude might explain why. The local people don’t like them and just kill them – probably are pests. Once some locals came and dumped this creature on my desk while I was working (the locusty-grasshopping thing). The other creature brown with big pincer jaws was quite formidable. But he didn’t bite me when I let him crawl onto me.
Want me to submit these to your site too?
Please submit the new photos each using its own submission form. Thanks.
Letter 3 – Immature Conehead Mantis from France
Mantis – Violin type
December 11, 2009
Dear WhatsthatBug, I found a type of Mantis in my house sitting on a barsilian rain stick at the end of November 2009. (Just a few weeks ago). I live in the South of France. The house is about 120 meters above sea level and 15 kilomters from the sea. The temperatures indoors are about 21 C at night. The rain stck which I have had for about 12 years – sits in a south facing window and with the sun the temperature would reach 28 to 30 on a sunny day. We have lots of green mantis here – I initially thought the photo was a green one turing into some hybernation state. But I dont think so.
The scale is the main part of the body is about 3 cms long and the the legs streach across about 5 to 6 cms. The rain stick – could it have hybernated and come out after about 12 years. I spent 10 years around Sao Paulo and other parts of Brasil and never saw the likes before. It looks like an Violin Mantis, but whatever it is it is beautiful. I appreciate any comments and advice on identification. Many thanks.
R. Reed, Le Muy, Var, France
South of France Nov 2009
Hi R. Reed,
This is an immature Conehead Mantis, Empusa pennata, which we identified on the Wild Side Holidays website. According to the website: “This species of mantis, although similar in size to the common European Praying mantis (Mantis religiosa), is easily distinguished by the protrusion from its crown. Both male and females, even from first hatching carry this tall extension giving them a very alien appearance. They live in areas that are warm and dry and use their cryptic colouring of either greens and pinks or various shades of brown to keep them hidden from predators.” The site also indicates: “The life cycle of a Conehead Mantis (Empusa pennata) is unusual amongst the European mantids as it hatches in the summer time, remains as a nymph through the winter and does not reach adulthood until the following spring. The ootheca (egg case) is attached to a plant stem and contains around 30 eggs. When the temperatures are right the tiny (1cm) nymphs all hatch at the same time and quickly disperse. From this point until mating in the following year they lead a solitary life. … (A similar coloured mantis Empusa fasciata exists further east around the Mediterranean but does not occur in Iberia.)“ Earlier this year, we posted an image of Empusa fasciata from Macedonia.
Letter 4 – Headless Preying Mantis still ambulatory
Headless mantis goes on as if nothing at all had happened
Location: Parkersburg, WV
October 9, 2013
I tried to submit another pic a couple of times from my phone, but I couldn’t get the submission form to go through on the mobile version. Consequently, I have no idea whether it went through multiple times or didn’t go through at all. In case it didn’t:
Headless mantis goes on as if nothing at all had happened:
This mantis was part of a mating pair I happened upon yesterday. I saw him with a head and then without one, so I figured he wasn’t long for the world. Imagine my surprise to find him the next morning, quite headless, going at what I would consider a normal mantis clip around the garden. He walked on the mulch and climbed a butterfly bush as if nothing had happened. I have no explanation for this. I didn’t know a mantis could do this, although I’ve heard this sort of story regarding the odd chicken.
Here he is, quite upright, and grasped at a leaf I brushed against him.
Thanks for your time and expertise!
Thank you for this interesting report. We have heard that a male Mantis will continue to mate if the female bites off his head, but we did not realize the ambulatory powers of a decapitated Mantis could last much longer than the mating activity. Your photo is lacking in detail, but your verbal account of your observations is fascinating.
Letter 5 – Greek Mantis
Some Mantis pics I thought you’d like!
You’ve been such a help identifying bugs for me in the past I thought rather than quiz you any more I’d just send you these pics I took on holiday. I found the Praying Mantis on a wall in Greece earlier this year. At one point an ant ran in front of him (or her?) and as you can see in one picture he devoured it pretty quickly!
We are always happy to hear we have been helpful. Your mantis photos are great. We are posting the two that have a better focus. Sadly the eating photo is a little soft. Thank you so much for adding to the site.
Letter 6 – Ground Mantid
CA mantis, maybe Litaneutria?
August 19, 2009
Unknown sex/species mantis nymph, found 8/1/2009 on the ground in the foothills of Northern CA. Distinctive: Three short “spikes” in a ridge along its abdomen. Mottled grey coloring is great camoflage on bark.
Robin & Maddie
Sierra foothills, CA (scrub oak/pine)
Hi Robin and Maddie,
We believe you are correct in your assessment that this mantis is a Ground Mantid in the genus Litaneutria. There is a photo on BugGuide that looks very close and shows the ridges on the abdomen.
Letter 7 – Happy Story with a Sad Ending
What’s that bug, of course!
Again, thanks for identifying our 5” spider.
I took a look at your Preying Mantis gallery and though you might like these. The pictures were taken with a snapshot digital camera, which kept me from focusing well on specific sections, such as the mantis’ head in the second pic. “Angel” was rescued from the parking lot at my work. I brought “Angel” home and the mantis couldn’t get enough of me. I’d put her (?) somewhere in the room and move away. Each time she’d follow me and climb up my clothes, often to the top of my head. She never acted threatened by my presence or actions. We brought her some crickets which she gladly dined on. 24 hours later my wife brought her outside with my daughter to await my arrival. As soon as I walked up, Angel immediately walked up my arm and climbed to the top of my head … and flew away. Up until then she hadn’t event attempted to fly. I followed her around the corner of the house only to witness her demise at the beak of a bird that spied her flying out in the open. L . Very interesting buggies!
Neil A. Bergman
Nashville , TN
Angel’s story is very sad, but we can’t really use that type of reasoning when it comes to nature. Nature isn’t cruel.
Letter 8 – Immature Mantis
It’s definitely a mantis but doesn’t appear to have wings? Looked on several sites but didn’t find a look-a-like. Regards,
Your Mantis is wingless because it is immature. It will grow wings when it matures.
Letter 9 – Immature Mantis
Location: Fulto, MO
July 31, 2015 7:55 pm
Found this little sweet thing on my roses. Would like to know more about it. Haven’t been able to find anything.
Thanks for the site! I love bugs!!!
This Mantis is an immature individual, and we are not certain of its species. We have not had any success finding an image of a similarly marked Mantis as the green legs with the brown “knees” is quite distinctive. Perhaps one of our readers who knows more about Mantids can provide some additional information.
thank you. i will try to keep an eye on him and the others like him that seem to love my roses. as i can, i will send more pics as they progress.
Letter 10 – Immature Mantis on my Woody Plant
Subject: Immature Mantis Patrolling my 2020 Crop
Geographic location of the bug: Mount Washington, Los Angeles, California
Time: 12:35 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: Welcome Back Bugman
I really missed you during the early days of COVID-19 and I’m glad you have returned to making postings. I don’t have an identification. I just wanted you to see the young Mantis I recently discovered patrolling for prey on one of my 2020 plants, Purple Jane
How you want your letter signe: Constant Gardener
Dear Constant Gardener,
We are happy to be back as well. That Mantis is really well camouflaged on your healthy looking plant.
Letter 11 – Immature Preying Mantis
Weird bug in backyard
September 9, 2009
Bugman, this bug flipped out my 9-yr-old daughter because it was right next to the door handle of our backdoor. First photo shows door lock for perspective, second is enlarged closeup.
So … what’s that bug?
La Crescenta, Calif
Dear Curious Dad,
The immature Preying Mantis in your photo is a harmless beneficial predator. We are uncertain of the exact species, but it looks to be a native species and not an introduced species.
Letter 12 – Immature Preying Mantis
Subject: Praying Mantis??
Location: Upstate New York
July 21, 2017 8:31 am
Found this little guy on my window screen in the morning. I live on the second floor. Thought is was a Praying Mantis but I’m not sure. Looks like it just shredded an exo-skeleton. Any ideas?
You are absolutely correct. This is an immature Mantis and that is indeed its recently molted exoskeleton.
Letter 13 – Immature Preying Mantis
Subject: cool character on my patio
Geographic location of the bug: Northwest New Mexico
Time: 11:29 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: What is this amazing looking little creature?
How you want your letter signed: Inquisitive Angela
This is an immature, predatory, beneficial Preying Mantis. It might be a native Bordered Mantis, Stagmomantis limbata, which is pictured on BugGuide. The tone of your inquiry is so enthusiastic, it cheered us after having posted an Unnecessary Carnage letter involving a Preying Mantis earlier today.
Letter 14 – Hungry Mantis Nymph
Hungry Mantid Nymphs
Location: Toledo, OH
June 17, 2011 8:41 am
For some reason, my mother’s house is always a mantis paradise. I think they’re amazing little critters and love to come over and watch them! The nymphs (Well, these guys might be a little to old to be called nymphs now, I’m not sure) were all over the place yesterday, and I was able to snap a few photos of the little guys. They were all a little less then a centimeter long! Hope you enjoy.
Your photo of a Preying Mantis Nymph eating a Fly is a nice addition to our Food Chain section.
Letter 15 – Identified at last: Pseudocreobotra wahlbergii
The mantis with an unusual pattern on its back is Pseudocreobotra wahlbergii, I raise them myself. Attached is a L4 nymph of the same species in its threat pose. Feel free to crop the image.
Thank you so much Ian,
You have single-handedly identified all of our unidentified exotic Mantids. Next time we get one that stumps us, we plant to contact you. Thanks again.
Letter 16 – Indian Bark Mantis, we believe
Subject: Praying Mantis
April 12, 2015 2:10 am
I found this praying mantis on January near our garden.. can you identify the species for me.
We discovered an image of the face of an Indian Bark Mantis, Humbertiella ceylonica, on Project Noah, and we believe it looks very similar to your Mantis. This image on DeviantArt and this image on DeviantArt both support that identification. Images on BugzUK also look similar. We are confident that your individual is a female based on her shorter wings.