Praying mantises have various ways of protecting themselves from their predators, such as mimicking nature, for example green twigs and branches whilst others can change colour, if there’s no possibility of flying away from a predator, the mantis might face that predator, raising its front legs to create the impression its considerably larger. Markings on its body can confuse predators such as large spots similar to eyes distributed across the wings can surprise a predator allowing escape opportunities.
The praying mantis is known throughout many cultures for its skills in patience and being vilagent, inspiring memorable stories and beliefs past down through generations. In 1368 AD according to Kung Fu legend a Buddhist Wang Lang observed a praying mantis hunting when he attempted to brush away the giant insect with a reed of stalk, the brave mantis attempted to defend himself by gripping the stalk. It is said that this interaction in a Monastery garden inspired principles within the Chinese Martial Arts practice whereas some think a praying mantis will motion a lost child in the direction of home or that the insect ‘prays’ towards Mecca.
Found in temperate, tropical and subtropical regions around the world and living on every continent except Antartica, 2,200 different types of mantis have flourished as these ambush hunters have adapted becoming skilled predators to. With an average lifespan of around 12 months and close relations to termites and cockroaches they have many crucial features making them successful in feeding, survival and mating.
Divided into three parts head, thorax, and abdomen with six legs and two large compound eyes the long mantis body is covered in a tough outer exoskeleton which covers its entire body and eyes. The exoskeleton is made up of separate plates connected by stretchy tissue allowing the mantis to move. The body is protected like a suit of armer but does not grow so when the skin becomes too tight the mantis molts. Common habitats include trees,shrubbery, flowers and grass and unlike other insects they find a home instead of making one, remaining there for their entire lives, often suiting to camouflage. Most commonly seen brown or green in colour but natural selection and adaptation has provided them taking alternative forms for camouflage.
With each eye made up of hundreds of lenses prey can be seen from up to 18 meters (60 feet) often seen nodding and tilting its head from side to side, turning its head up to 180 degrees to size up and estimate the distance for its attack. There are three simple eyes distributed between its two compound eyes in a triangle formation which are thought to be to tell the difference between light and dark by Entomologists whilst the compound eyes determine images and colours. The sharp mouthparts are designed for chewing live prey whilst the antennas help to find the food.
The mantis has three pairs of jointed legs, the front pair has spines and hooks that are used to catch and hold its prey when eating, these are usually folded in a praying position, these and the four wings are attached to its thorax.
A common misconception of the mantis is the breeding behaviour of the female biting the head of her mate but this only happens 35% normally if the female is hungry and needs protein from the male to help the eggs develop or the male ejaculate. There are three growth stages (egg, nymph, and adult) the mantis goes through are known as simple metamorphosis.
After several months with my Chinese Mantis Tenodera sinensis called ‘Scyther’ she recently passed away from old age and I can tell you now from the bottom of my heart she was the greatest pet I ever had, who new a little insect could have such a massive personality. I observed Scyther’s entire life cycle from nymph to adult hood, the way her feeding changed and she learnt to hunt and one of the many things i found most beautiful about her was when she finally opened her wings, the colours and texture was magnificent, many mantids do this as a sign of aggression but I only saw these once. The mantis is one of the most unique and spectacular species I have ever encountered and hope to again in the future.