Although best known as “praying mantises” and for the habit the females of some species have of devouring the male during mating, which is not as common as legend has it, there are many other no less interesting aspects to these predatory insects.

These long, thin insects have played a significant role in human mythology and the name Mantid is derived from an ancient Greek word meaning “prophet,” most likely due their habit of holding their spikey front legs lifted in front of their bodies as though praying.

The term Mantid refers to the Order (larger than a Family) of insects of which mantises are a group.

Although some species of female mantids have been recorded devouring the male during mating, it is unclear what evolutionary role this plays, and some scientists argue that this behaviour is more common under laboratory conditions than in the wild.

Nevertheless, this trait adds to the reputation of mantids as ferocious predators of other insects, which they are.

Some mantids stalk their prey until they are close enough grasp the insect with a rapid lunge of the front legs, holding the victim in a spiny embrace, before killing and eating it.

Other mantids are ambush hunters and many mimic flowers, bark, or grass to make it harder for prey to detect them.

Mantids themselves become prey to birds, lizards, spiders, and mammals, including bats.

For many years it was thought that mantids were deaf, but biologists discovered that they can hear and, extremely unusually, have only one ear located in the thorax which they use to detect the high frequency hunting echolocation calls made by some bats.

Researchers have shown that if a mantid flying from one location to another detects a bat call it dives in a spiral towards the ground to avoid being eaten.

Mike Cadman

Mike has worked as a journalist for a variety of international and local media organisations as well as environmental NGO’s for the past 38 years and is the author of five books. During his career, he has covered all major news developments in southern Africa and has travelled extensively throughout many parts of the continent. He spends as much time as possible in the bush and has extensive knowledge of broader environmental issues as well as the creatures that live there.