Nature Nugget – The Praying Mantis

Relatives of the cockroach, the praying mantises, or mantids, are carnivorous insects that are named for the constant position in which they hold their front legs when at rest. Their front legs are held folded together as if they were praying, when in reality they are preying rather than praying. Because of this deceptively humble appearance of praying or meditating, they are considered sacred by certain Eastern cultures. The word mantid derives from a Greek word meaning prophet or seer. There are 2,000 species of mantids in the world, with the largest species reaching six inches in length and the smallest one reaching a mere one centimeter. The mantids are the only insects that can rotate their heads in almost a full 360-degree circle. Their large compound eyes are sensitive to the slightest movement up to 60 feet away.

Praying mantises use their front legs to capture their prey, usually insects, but they have also been known to take small mice and reptiles and occasionally hummingbirds. Their front legs are equipped with rows of sharp spikes that the mantises use to hold their prey. Mantids hunt by locating themselves near a flower or other insect-attracting location and patiently waiting for an insect to come within striking range of its forelegs. They occasionally will even stalk their prey by creeping toward it slowly, swaying back and forth, thus mimicking the foliage in a breeze. Farmers and gardeners consider praying mantises beneficial insects, because they eat a lot of insect pests. As a result, their egg cases are commonly sold for placement in gardens.

In North America, praying mantises are green, gray, or brown, which helps to camouflage them among the plants where they live. In tropical rainforest areas, some mantids resemble leaves in shape and color. In Africa and the Far East, there are mantids called flower mantises, which so closely resemble flowers that nectar-gathering insects will often land on them.

Praying mantises are also known for their behavior of the female cannibalizing the smaller male after mating. In temperate areas, the females lay their eggs in the fall as a frothy, gummy mass that hardens into an egg case. These egg cases are attached to objects such as twigs or stems. Tiny nymphs emerge the following spring or early summer.

Mantises are preyed upon by numerous species of spiders, insect-eating mammals, and birds. In the bodies of some species of mantises, there is a hollow chamber that is used to detect the high frequency calls of bats, one of their most feared predators. While flying around at night, if one of these mantises detects the calls of a bat, it drastically changes its flight pattern, often spiraling down to the ground to avoid the bat.

As the praying mantis appears to be in a constant state of praying and meditating, this should be a reminder to us that we should keep our hearts and minds in a prayerful attitude throughout the day. “Keep the mind in a praying mood, uplifted to God.” Testimonies, vol. 2, 701. “Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:17, 18. In Ephesians 6:18, Paul admonishes us to pray always “with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit.” If we keep a prayer on our hearts continually, we have the promise of deliverance from the snares of the enemy: “Not one watching, praying, believing soul will be ensnared by the enemy.” Testimonies, vol. 6, 404.

David Arbour writes from his home in DeQueen, Arkansas. He may be contacted by e-mail at: