Praying Mantid

mantid on a branch
close up of mantid headclose up of mantid head and legmantid with captured prey

Most mantids (Order Mantodea, Family Mantidae) eat insects (including other mantids) but some large species (up to 30cm!) are capable of capturing small birds, reptiles and frogs. They are extremely efficient predators and have an estimated success rate of 85%. They have many morphological features that enable them to have such a high success rate:

Raptorial legs: the long, highly specialised forelegs are used to strike out rapidly and capture prey. While hunting, the mantid holds its forelegs folded underneath the head, in preparation to strike at any given moment (this is why they are called 'praying' mantids, the position of the legs makes it look as though the mantid is praying). Once captured, long, sharp spines on the upper insides of the legs allow them to impale and hold onto their prey while they eat it. Mantids do not use stings to poison or immobilise, but rely solely on their forelegs and its spines to handle their prey - this is particularly important during those occasions when the prey is still living while the mantid eats it! When not in use the raptorial legs are neatly folded and the spines of each leg are sheathed in grooves on the insides of the lower part of the leg.

Mobile head and well developed compound eyes: Mantids are the only insects that can turn their head from side to side without moving any other part of the body. An elongated thorax, which acts like a neck, allows them to rotate their head up to 180 degrees, enabling the mantid to track the movement of prey without having to move itself until the prey is within striking distance. The head also has well developed compound eyes that are positioned to either side of the head, along with 3 simple eyes positioned between the compound eyes. The position of the eyes is extremely important because it gives the mantid a wide-angle view so that the distance to prey can be accurately calculated. An interesting behaviour of the mantid is its tendency to swing its head from side to side when it has its prey in sight. It is thought this allows the mantid to more accurately determine the direction and striking distance required to capture the sighted prey.

Camouflage: Mantids are often coloured according to the vegetation in which they hunt. Their bodies often mimic colours as well as patterns of leaves (both living and dead), twigs, branches and flowers. For example, a Malaysian mantid species is coloured pink and spends most of its time hunting for prey on pink orchids. Most mantids wait for prey to come within reach, so their ability to blend into the background and remain motionless is an important factor in their success as predators.

Close up photos of mantid courtesy of Keith Power, Toowoomba, Qld.

Photo of mantid with prey courtesy of Peter Chew