In your yard: praying mantises


Mantises belong to the order Mantodea, which has 2,300 species in fifteen families worldwide. Twenty inhabit the United States. People tend to call any mantis a “praying” one because of the way they hold their front legs in a prayer-like position. However, they’re “preying” mantises, and the only species actually named that is the European Mantis, Mantis religiosa, shown above.

“Preying” mantis is a reference to their efficient method of capturing prey. They wait in ambush to spring forward, usually catching an insect, such as a butterfly, dragonfly, or even another mantis. But they’re also known to catch rodents, small birds, and fish, making them both good or sad to have around, depending on your affection for those larger critters.

The European Mantis found itself in the U.S. when it rode in on a shipment of plants from Europe in 1899. It’s now found in many areas of the U.S. and Canada.

Mantises are among the few insects able to swivel their head independently of their body, and it can be unsettling to have a large insect swivel its head and stare right back at us! Although they’re large, they aren’t dangerous to humans. Hold your finger out in front of one, and it might even step up on it and inspect you while you examine it!

A round, tan sac that made of natural materials attached to a plant stem.

The ootheca (egg case) of a mantis. (schizoform / Flickr; CC BY 2.0)

Nurseries and gardeners often purchase mantis egg cases, which hold up to 200 mantis eggs. When they hatch, they’re an army of voracious carnivores.

A Carolina Mantis standing on a white rope.

Carolina Mantis, Stagmomantis carolina (WW: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

The Carolina Mantis, Stagmomantis Carolina, is native to the U.S. and Canada and is also the most widespread. Males are usually brown, and females may be green or brown. Roughly 25 percent of sexual encounters between the sexes result in the male being decapitated by the female!

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