Backyard Nature Wednesday: Praying mantis

While I was watering a pot of gerbera daisies yesterday, I became aware that the daisies had a visitor aboard.

See him? He's well-camouflaged, wearing the same color as the leaves, and sitting just to the right of the flower. That's right - he's a praying mantis, one of the most interesting of predatory insects.

Here he is from a slightly different angle.

From behind, you can get an idea of those relatively large front legs which he uses to capture his prey - things like moths, crickets, grasshoppers, flies, and just about any other insect that comes within reach. Those legs are equipped with spikes that help him snare his prey and hold it in place while he devours it at his leisure. Not only do the mantises eat other kinds of insects, they are also known to eat their own kind. The most notorious cannibalistic behavior is that of the female mantis who sometimes eats her mate just after, or even during, the act of mating. This however does not seem to deter the horny males. Perhaps the hint of danger gives the act an extra fillip!

Those front legs that are formidable weapons also give this insect its common name. In its resting pose, the legs are bent and held together at an angle that suggest the position of praying hands - thus, "praying" mantis.

Whatever we call them, these insects are powerful and efficient predators. They have the ability to turn their triangular heads 180 degrees on their long neck in order to scan their surroundings with their two large compound eyes and the three other simple eyes that are located between them. While doing this, they remain virtually invisible because of their cryptic coloring of green or brown that blends in with their surroundings.

Praying mantids are welcome partners in the garden because they eat so many harmful insects. Indeed, gardeners often purchase egg cases of the insect to allow them to hatch in their gardens. I haven't found it necessary to do that since I seem to have plenty of naturally-occurring ones. And so can you if you eschew insecticides. The females regularly produce an egg case which holds hundreds of eggs. When the nymphs hatch, they look much like miniature versions of the adults. I frequently see large numbers of them around the garden in summer.

Here is a link to ten little-known facts about these fascinating insects.


  1. They really are fascinating insects -- close up "macro" photos make them look alien. I think we have some around here too, or at least we have had in the past. I managed to capture a photo of one once. I hadn't even known it was there until I saw the photo blown up on my computer.

    1. They are very good at remaining incognito. Like you, often I don't even realize they are there until I upload my pictures.


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