Praying Mantis: Are These Carnivorous Insects Good For The Garden

You walk onto your front porch. A praying mantis perches on a porch rail or table.

It appears something like an odd looking animated baby string bean, propped up with green toothpicks.

As you move, it turns its triangular head toward you.

Praying Mantis sitting up and looking for its prey.
Praying Mantis with its large triangular head starring with its compound eyes ready to strike.

You shift first one way, then another, and the gaze from its large compound eyes follows you with ease.

You become slightly alarmed. This creature appears almost human, you think.

What can it be? Will it sting or bite? Will it jump or fly at me?

Instinctively you reach for a flyswatter. But wait!

You discover it is a friend, the praying mantis.

An insect closely allied to the grasshopper family and known scientifically as an orthopterous insect of the family Mantidae, order mantodea.

The pray mantis insect is not poisonous and will do you no harm, but to members of the insect world, it is a deadly killer.

It is the only known insect that can direct its gaze wherever it wishes, moving the head freely in all directions.

Look for it in your vegetable garden, among your flowers, or wherever insects are attracted.

The Praying Mantis are very beneficial insects that make a career of eating large numbers of pest insects.

These good bugs are referred to as “praying” because of the way they hold their prominent front legs together while waiting for prey.

In this article, we present facts about this fascinating insect, along with a bit of folklore. We also share advice on:

  • Attracting them to your garden
  • Helping them thrive
  • Even keeping them as pets

Read on to learn more.

Where Do Praying Mantis Come From?

You will find these Praying Mantis in every continent on earth with the exception of Antarctica.

There are over 2300 known mantis species. Scientist discovered 19 new species of praying mantis in Central and South America.

One new species is an active hunting bark mantis.

In Java, pink flower mantises have been discovered. They so closely resemble flowers of a pink orchid it is difficult to differentiate between them.

Several of the most well known are:

  • Mantis Religiosa – The Europeam mantis
  • Tenodera Sinensis – The Chinese mantis
  • Stagmomantis Carolina – The Carolina mantis, a young collectors favorite
  • Hierodula tenuidentata – Giant Asian mantis, sometimes called the “fishing mantid”

Over 100 years ago the European mantis, was accidentally, but most opportunely, introduced into New York state.

Agriculturists hope that this mantis species will become sufficiently well established in its new surroundings to carry on with gusto its pest exterminating.

Because the praying mantis is so widespread, there are many myths surrounding them.

Here are just a few:

#1 – Ancient Greeks thought of the mantis as a diviner or prophet because of its prayerful stance, and that is the meaning of the word, mantis, in new Latin derived from the Greek word, mainesthai, which means “to be mad”. [source]

#2 – People in long ago France believed that praying mantises showed lost children how to find their way home.

#3 – As with many types of animals, mantises hold a special place in Chinese traditional medicine and are believed to be useful in resolving a wide variety of ailments ranging from thyroid imbalance to goiter to bedwetting.

#4 – In Africa, one myth holds that having a praying mantis land on you is a sign of good luck to come.

#5 – Early civilizations of Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, and Assyria considered mantises to have supernatural powers.

#6 – Some superstitions maintain that a mantis’s brown saliva can cause blindness. Still others hold that a horse or mule that accidentally eats a mantis will die.

#7 – The Italians felt certain the nest had mystic qualities that would prevent or even cure a toothache. Under a certain moon, women gathered the nests. Carefully they were tucked into a cupboard for future needs. As long as you had your “tigno,” you would be free from toothache.

#8 – In sixteenth-century England they believed the mantis was endowed with a peculiar sense of direction that would come to the aid of a wanderer.

“If ever you are lost,” the story goes, “ask the mantis the way. She will stretch out one of her feet and point to you the way to go. Seldom does she miss.”

The peasants were certain, the mantis possessed supernatural powers.

#9 – In the southern United States, the praying mantis is sometimes referred to as a devil’s horse or a mule-killer. In India, the praying mantis is often called the god-horse. [source]

20 Questions On Praying Mantis Answered

How Big Are Praying Mantises?

Common mantis species vary in size, ranging from one inch long to three inches long.

In tropical settings they can get even bigger, measuring a full eight inches long.

These giants don’t just eat other insects. They also eat small mammals and birds, including hummingbirds.

Discover Magazine reported that 3 researchers observed a fishing mantid, in India. “Over the course of five days, the giant Asian mantis (Hierodula tenuidentata) caught and ate nine guppies or almost two per day.”

Are Praying Mantises Carnivores?

Although some anecdotal evidence from people who keep praying mantises as pets indicate that they may eat fruit occasionally and may accept dead bugs or bits of meat.

However, for the most part, they are carnivorous insects and prefer live food.

How Does The Praying Mantis Hunt?

Praying mantis are large, predaceous, solitary insects.

As hunters, they mostly stay in one place waiting for prey to come to them.

Although they are not able to jump, like many of their prey, they nonetheless have no trouble catching swifter insects thanks to their superior gifts of patient waiting, lightning reflexes and strong, thorny arms.

Their compound eyes provide excellent vision helping them hunt effortlessly.

The praying mantis has a large, triangular head that it can swivel almost 360°.

Their eyes are large and compound (made up of many small eyes) and dominate the head.

Their necks are quite long and flexible.

This combination makes this predatory insect possible to detect slight movements and small prey we can never see with our naked-eye from as far away as sixty feet.

With their ability to see in every direction and blend in with the environment, they do very well with a strategy of just sitting, watching and waiting.

When they detect prey, they leap upon it swiftly.

In fact, when it comes to speed and rapid reflexes, they are twice as fast as a housefly (much to the chagrin of houseflies).

Note: Roberto Battiston, a researcher with the Musei Canal di Brenta in Valstagna, Italy, studied the mantis hunting practices. Battiston said, their behavior is “very much like a precise hunting strategy – not random choices.”

The Look Of The Hunt

The mantis’ slender, graceful body is clothed in pale green from the top of its head to the tip of its toes.

It sits quietly in the attitude of prayer that has caused it to bear its paradoxical name.

Its arms are folded piously across its breast, and gossamer wings trail carelessly in back. It appears completely inoffensive.

But as a grasshopper approaches, the mantis goes into its act.

It shivers convulsively, and its wings suddenly tower erect over its back.

The lower tip of the body curls up like a shepherd’s crook. It rises and falls in short jerks, the while making a whispering puff, the only sound of which it is capable.

The front of this creature’s body stands almost upright with legs outstretched to form a cross.

The first time you see the long forelegs, the double-edged saw-like weapons of cruel sharpness with miniature pruning-hook ends.

It holds this strange attitude and stares at its prey, turning only its triangular head if the victim moves.

As small and bulkless as it appears, it is not at all unusual for the mantis to attack insects as big as itself or even bigger.

Beetles, grasshoppers, locusts, and insects even stronger prove no match for its cruel cunning and deadly weapons.

The carnivorous habits of this small creature are the qualities that make it extremely useful to mankind.

Its ravenous appetite prods it to search constantly for insects, most of which are bent on destroying our crops.

Hence, it is a valuable, but far too-little-known, assistant to the farmer and home gardener.

What Do Praying Mantises Eat?

Houseflies are not the only pesky insects who should fear the praying mantis. Their prey also include:

  • Grasshoppers
  • Cockroaches
  • Leafhoppers
  • Caterpillars
  • Mosquitoes
  • Crickets
  • Stink bugs
  • Aphids
  • Beetles
  • Moths

It gorges on locusts, crickets, wasps and other small insects.

If it should catch a wasp with prey of its own in its grasp, so much the better for the mantis. It gets two meals for the work of one.

These good bugs have voracious appetites and ambush predators eating anything they can catch and hold.

You could heartily endorse its voracious appetite for destructive insects if only this creature would restrain its cannibalistic tendencies.

Because they are so hungry and so industrious, they have long been considered excellent helpers for farmers and home gardeners.

But it thinks nothing of feeding upon its sisters, and of course runs the same risk of being eaten by those of her kind.

Even the male mantis suffers the same fate. He is evidently so unimportant that practically no mention is made of him in entomological studies beyond his part in fertilizing the eggs, and immediately thereafter being devoured by his mate.

They are good for garden pest control if your growing space is bug infested. But this voracious mantids may also feed on beneficial insects and friendly garden creatures.

We cannot for a moment doubt its effective benefits to mankind, because of the tremendous volume of insects it devours annually.

Praying Mantis eating a fly
Praying Mantis devouring a fly!

Do Mantises Eat Spiders?

Although a praying mantis might eat a non-venomous spider that is smaller than the mantis, it is far more likely that a large spider would eat a mantis.

Does Mantis Species Eat Ants?

Mantis nymphs eat soft-bodied insects, providing a natural way to get rid of aphids.

Adult mantis usually eats larger insects, such as crickets. Therefore, ants would not be a typical target.

Do Mantis Eat Ladybugs?

Most predatory insects do not eat ladybugs because they are toxic. However, ladybugs are NOT poisonous to humans.

Do Praying Mantises Eat Ticks?

No, these good bugs eat garden insects. According to some anecdotal evidence, they will eat ticks in captivity, but this is not a natural food for mantis.

Will Praying Mantises Eat Aphids?

Yes, mantis nymphs eat aphids. The University of Florida shares this interesting observation.

“Those that feed on aphids develop faster, age faster, move faster, typically are larger, and lay their eggs in clusters. Those that feed on scale insects develop more slowly, live longer, move more slowly, typically are smaller, and lay their eggs singly.”

Will Praying Mantises Eat Stink Bugs?

Surprisingly enough, yes they do eat stink bugs! Here’s one now, eating a dreaded marmorated stink bug, wings and all!

Mantis Eats Stink Bug

Can Praying Mantises Eat Birds?

Large praying mantises can and do kill and eat small birds, such as hummingbirds.

What Else Do Praying Mantises Eat?

In fact, large mantises have been known to catch and eat mice, small lizards, frogs, and (according to a September 2018 article in National Geographic) fish!

Praying Mantises Hunt and Eat Fish

Do Praying Mantis Eat Other Good Bugs?

On the downside, praying mantis have no ethical problems when it comes to eating other beneficial insects, but they are far more likely to eat pests as these are more numerous and generally easier to catch.

Do Praying Mantises Eat Each Other?

Occasionally, if other food sources are scarce, they turn to cannibalism.

It thinks nothing of feeding upon its sisters, and of course runs the same risk of being eaten by those of her kind.

Even the male mantis suffers the same fate.

He is evidently so unimportant that practically no mention is made of him in entomological studies beyond his part in fertilizing the eggs, and immediately thereafter being devoured by his mate.

If the adult female is starving, she will eat the male during copulation (referred to as sexual cannibalism).

Just-hatched nymphs will also eat one another if they are confined in a small space and have nothing else to eat.

How Do Praying Mantises Camouflage Themselves?

There are many different species of mantis, and their coloration and configuration is determined by their environment.

They may be various shades of brown or green, or they may be speckled or mottled.

Some tropical mantises show off an array of bright pastel and primary colors.

They are also able to alter their coloration slightly in order to blend in more seamlessly.

They may have bodies that look like sticks, leaves or even flowers.

They employ ruses such as swaying slightly so as to look like twigs, leaves or blossoms blown by the breeze.

These clever disguises make it easy for them to get up-close-and-personal with their unsuspecting victims.

Are Praying Mantises Nocturnal?

It would be more correct to describe them as flexible, adaptable and/or opportunistic.

Nocturnal creatures sleep during the day and are active at night. Praying mantises are active when there is prey to be had.

They eat moths and other nocturnal creatures at night and diurnal (daytime) creatures during the day.

What Eats Praying Mantises?

Their natural enemies include reptiles, large frogs and toads, bats, birds and large spiders.

For the most part, though, the praying mantis is the predator.

They eat a wide variety of small creatures, insect pests and some insects’ eggs.

Can or Do Praying Mantises Fly?

Some female praying mantises cannot fly, but most males and fully mature females can and do fly.

Are Praying Mantises Aggressive Or Dangerous To Humans?

Most praying mantises are rather friendly and curious and will walk on your hand if you just place your finger gently in front of the creature.

They do not bite unless you squeeze or otherwise threaten them.

Mantis perched on a finger

Does A Praying Mantis’ Bite Hurt?

Their bite is not venomous, but it pinches a bit, and their mandibles are not exactly clean.

You could get an infection from a praying mantis bite, but it is unlikely you will be bitten unless you deserve it.

When Do Praying Mantises Lay Eggs?

Female praying mantises lay their eggs during the autumn and die soon after.

They lay eggs on sheltered, stationary objects such as twigs, fence posts and under the eaves of houses and outbuildings.

Each clutch contains about two hundred eggs which are protected in cases made of a foamy substance called ootheca.

This hardens to form a protective coating that keeps the eggs safe until they are ready to hatch.

The egg cases are brown, oblong and measure about an inch in length.

Mantis Egg Laying And Nest Building In Descriptive Detail

The mantis builds a nest of unique structure, the like of which no human being has so far been able to duplicate.

Perhaps someday you will run across one while puttering around outdoors. Here, then, is a preview of what happened to put it there:

A suitable site seems to be any sunny spot in August that affords a piece of brick, a twig, stone, plant stem, or even a bit of old leather.

The female mantis alights on the chosen foundation and sets to work without effort, almost as if she neither knows nor cares what she does.

She lays the eggs at the same time she slowly excretes a sticky mucus, akin to silk. With two ladles at the tip of her body, she whips this substance into a froth, as you would beat an egg white with a fork.

The greyish-white foam looks almost like soapsuds is sticky when it first appears, but in a couple of minutes has become quite hard.

Without so much as a backward glance at this peculiar process, a feat that amazes even human masterminds of engineering, the mantis lays the eggs in such a way that the heads will all point toward the doorways in a nest that will prove impenetrable to weather and other insects.

That is, it is impenetrable except for a mid-section of tiny, overlapping scales laid out in pairs.

The edges of these scales are free to form doorways through which the young mantis is eventually hatched.

Although the form of the nest-egg case varies to some extent, roughly it resembles an almond in size, shape, and color.

When the mantis finishes her egg-laying and nest-building, you get another inkling of her impious nature.

As saint-like, as she appears, you would at least expect her to be concerned for the young mantises.

Instead, they are left to fend for themselves in a world that proves most cruel and dangerous to them.

Hatching Praying Mantis Babies

When Do Praying Mantis Eggs Hatch?

In the springtime, tiny little praying mantis nymphs emerge from the egg case.

The nymphs are exact miniatures of their parents, but much smaller. They are about the size of ants.

They grow very quickly and may molt (shed their skins) a dozen times between hatching and attaining full growth.

What Do Baby Mantises Eat?

Mantis nymphs are born hungry and begin searching for prey right away. They make short work of aphids, leafhoppers, gnats, and small flies.

Are Praying Mantises Endangered?

Worldwide, there are about 2300 mantis species, and most of them maintain safe numbers in their natural environment. Only one species is currently considered endangered, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

How To Introduce, Attract And Keep Praying Mantises In Your Yard

As with most predatory insects, the best way to attract praying mantises to your yard is to:

  • Plant a diverse collection of fruiting and flowering plants
  • Avoid using commercial pesticides

Make good use of native plants, and keep your yard a little on the wild side to provide plenty of habitat for hunting, hiding, mating, and egg-laying.

If you currently have no mantises in your garden or you want to add some new stock to your current population, you can buy mantis egg cases in garden centers or online at Amazon.

There are about 200 eggs in each egg case, so plan on introducing one case for every 2000 square feet of space.

Hatching Mantises Indoors

You can hatch them indoors, feed them little bugs and release them or put the cases in safe, sheltered areas outdoors to hatch naturally.

If you want to hatch them indoors, you can force hatching by keeping the egg casing in the refrigerator for a month or so.

Then put the egg case into an artificially warmed setting such as an incubator, terrarium or greenhouse.

The consistent warmth acts as a catalyst to hatching. Be sure you have plenty of space for the hatchlings.

If you try to keep the newly hatched nymphs together in a small enclosure, they will soon gobble each other up.

Hatching Mantises Outdoors

To hatch them outdoors, put the egg cases in place just after all danger of frost passes.

Place the cases up off the ground or the ants will get them and eat the eggs.

You can attach them to fence posts or twigs or place them carefully in crooks in trees and bushes.

Shelter them somewhat from the elements.

They do better in warmer locations, and you can expect to see nymphs within two weeks, as long as the weather is consistently mild.

You can repeat the release several times throughout the summer months.

Natural Pest Management – Introducing Praying Mantis to the Garden

Once your praying mantis population is established, be careful in your garden late in the autumn, through the winter and early in the springtime.

Keep an eye out for the small, brown egg cases. Take care not to damage them as each one holds a small army of effective garden helpers.

When pruning watch carefully. If you must remove a branch with a casing on it, put the branch in a sheltered area until you are sure the nymphs have hatched out and left.

You can tell because the case will be riddled with tiny holes once they’ve emerged.

Avoid Pesticides And Insecticides

To have a healthy organic garden, you need a good balance of both predators and prey.

Along with praying mantises, you need ladybugs, lacewings and a host of other good bugs to help keep the pest population under control.

That’s why you must avoid using pesticides at all costs.

Just one application can wipe out your good bugs and your bad bugs.

One of the main differences between these groups of insects. The bad garden bugs tend to adapt, rebound and repopulate quickly after a pesticide application.

This is not true of most beneficial insects, and especially praying mantises.

Unlike pest insects, mantis are rather slow at reproducing and only have one generation per season.

The eggs overwinter and hatch out in the springtime. The nymphs quickly grow into adults, mate and die with the first frost.

A heavy application of pesticide can decimate their population in a lasting way. Getting rid of all your bugs may seem like a good idea one season.

However, you’ll regret it the next season when the pests return in a new and improved chemical-resistant form, but the garden helpers don’t return at all.

Can You Keep A Praying Mantis As A Pet?

In North America, there are about twenty common mantis species. The largest is actually an introduced species.

The Chinese mantis (Tenodera sinensis) was brought to Philadelphia in 1896 by a nurseryman. It measures about four inches in length and is quite fierce looking.

The Chinese mantis eats a wide variety of insects great and small.

This type of mantis is also known to eat raw meat when kept as a pet. They make good pets and do not wander very far if you keep them well fed.

Two martial arts moves were created to mimic its movements: Praying Mantis Kung Fu and Southern Praying Mantis.

If you keep your pet mantis carefully, you can expect it to live for six months to a year.

If you want to keep a praying mantis as a pet, you can find food for it easily. Feed your mantis flies, caterpillars, grasshoppers, crickets and other bugs.

Be sure the prey you offer has not been in contact with pesticides. To be certain of this, purchase live crickets and/or mealworms at a pet store.

Here is a Chinese mantis enjoying a mealworm.

Carolina mantis (Stagmomantis Carolina) – The nymphs can adapt early to its surroundings and make use of camouflage while preying or protecting itself from predators. Its color ranges from green, gray or dusty brown making them harder to find.

How To Set Up An Indoor Mantis Habitat?

For a simple, temporary home (or a home for a young or smaller type of mantis) you can use a large jar placed in a warm setting with indirect lighting.

The jar should be covered with mesh, or poke some holes in the lid.

Your pet mantis will need a sturdy twig to climb on.

Soak a natural sponge with water, squeeze it out and set it in the bottom of the jar to provide humidity and moisture for your pet to drink.

Rinse the sponge daily to prevent problems with mold and mildew.

When keeping your mantis in a terrarium, provide a natural setting with small plants.

The moisture you provide the plants will also provide adequate hydration for the mantis.

If you are able to keep a pair of mantis, they will mate in captivity without any trouble.

You’ll need to provide a tree branch for the female to lay her eggs.

Soon after, she will die, and you’ll need to keep the eggs in a cold place through the winter until reliably warm weather arrives in the spring.

Alternately, you could force hatching as discussed earlier.

For more detailed information on breeding and keeping mantises, see the Amateur Entomologists’ Society’s handy Praying Mantid Care Sheet.

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