Mantis — this is one of the strangest predatory insects on the entire planet. Some features of the life of an unusual creature, its habits, in particular the famous mating habits, may shock many. This insect is often found in ancient myths and legends of many countries. Some peoples attributed to them the ability to predict the coming of spring; in China, praying mantises were considered the standard of greed and stubbornness.
Origin of the species and description
Praying mantises are not just a species, but a whole suborder of arthropod insects with many species, of which there are up to two thousand . All of them have the same habits and a similar body structure, differ only in color, size and habitat. All praying mantises are predatory insects, absolutely ruthless and incredibly voracious, which slowly deal with their prey, enjoying the whole process.
The praying mantis got its academic name back in the 18th century. The famous naturalist Carl Liney gave this creature the name “Mantis religiosa” or “religious priest” due to the unusual pose of the insect while in ambush, which was similar to the pose of a praying person. In some countries, this strange insect has less euphonious names due to its terrible habits, for example, in Spain, the praying mantis is known as the “devil's horse”.
The praying mantis is an ancient insect and there are still disputes in the scientific community about about its origin. Some believe that this species went from ordinary cockroaches, others are of a different opinion, giving them a separate evolutionary path.
Interesting fact: One of the styles of Chinese wushu martial arts is called praying mantis. An ancient legend says that a Chinese peasant came up with this style while watching the spectacular battles of these predatory insects.
Appearance and Features
Almost all types of praying mantises have an elongated body of a special structure. The triangular, highly movable head can rotate 360 degrees. The compound eyes of the insect are located along the lateral edges of the head, have a complex structure, there are three more ordinary eyes at the base of the whiskers. The oral apparatus is of the gnawing type. The antennae may be filiform or comb-like, depending on the species.
The pronotum rarely overlaps the head of the insect; the abdomen itself consists of ten segments. The last section of the abdomen ends with paired appendages of multiple segments, which are the organs of smell. The forelimbs are equipped with strong spikes that help to capture the prey. Almost all praying mantises have well-developed front and rear pairs of wings, thanks to which the insect can fly. The narrow, dense wings of the front pair protect the second pair of wings. The hind wings are wide with many membranes, folded in the form of a fan.
The color of the insect can be different: from dark brown to bright green and even pink-lilac, with a characteristic pattern and spots on the wings. There are very large individuals, reaching 14-16 cm in length, there are also very small specimens up to 1 cm.
Particularly interesting species:
- common mantis — the most common type. The size of the body of the insect reaches 6-7 centimeters and has a green or brown color with a characteristic dark spot on the front legs on the inside;
- Chinese species – has a very large size up to 15 cm, the color is the same as that of ordinary praying mantis, differs in its nocturnal lifestyle;
- the spiky-eyed mantis is an African giant that can disguise itself as dry twigs;
- orchid – the most beautiful of the species, got its name due to its similarity with the flower of the same name. Females grow up to 8 mm, while males are half as large;
- floral Indian and prickly species – they are distinguished by a bright color with a characteristic spot on the front wings in the form of an eye. They live in Asia and India, they are small in size – only 30-40 mm.
Where does the praying mantis live?
The habitat of praying mantises is very extensive and captures many countries of Asia, South and Central Europe, Africa, and South America. There are numerous populations of praying mantises in Spain, Portugal, China, India, Greece, and Cyprus. Some species live on the territory of Belarus, Tatarstan, Germany, Azerbaijan, Russia. Predatory insects were brought to Australia and North America, where they also breed successfully.
In tropical and subtropical conditions, praying mantises live:
- in forests with high humidity;
- in rocky deserts warmed by the scorching sun.
In Europe, praying mantises are common in the steppes, spacious meadows. These are heat-loving creatures that do not tolerate temperatures below 20 degrees very well. Recently, some regions of Russia have been periodically subjected to a real invasion of praying mantis, which migrate from other countries in search of food.
Praying mantises rarely change their habitat. Having chosen one tree or even a branch, they remain on it all their lives if there is enough food around. Insects actively move only during the mating season, in the presence of danger or in the absence of the required number of objects for hunting. Praying mantises feel great in terrariums. The most comfortable ambient temperature for them is 25-30 degrees with a humidity of at least 60 percent. They do not drink water, as they get everything they need from food. Under natural conditions, some more aggressive and strong species can crowd out smaller ones, up to complete extermination in a certain area.
An interesting fact: In a number of regions of South Asia, predatory praying mantises are specially bred in artificial conditions as an effective weapon against malarial mosquitoes and other insects that spread dangerous infectious diseases.
Now you know where the praying mantis lives. Let's find out what the insect eats.
What does the praying mantis eat?
Being a predator, the praying mantis feeds only living food and never picks up carrion. These insects are very voracious and need to constantly hunt.
The main diet of adults is:
- other insects, such as mosquitoes, flies, beetles and bees, while the size of the prey is even can exceed the size of a predator;
- large species are able to attack medium-sized amphibians, small birdies and rodents;
- very often relatives, including their own offspring, become food.
Cannibalism among praying mantises – commonplace, and exciting fights between praying mantises break out very often.
Interesting fact: Larger and more aggressive females often eat their partners in the process of mating. This happens due to a critical lack of protein necessary for the development of offspring. As a rule, at the very beginning of mating, the female bites off the head of the male, and after the process is completed, she eats him completely. If the female is not hungry, then the future father manages to retire in time.
These predators do not run after their prey. With the help of their specific coloration, they effectively disguise themselves among twigs or flowers and wait for the approach of their prey, throwing themselves at it from an ambush with lightning speed. Praying mantises grab their prey with powerful forelimbs, and then, clamping between the thigh, equipped with spikes and the lower leg, they slowly eat the still living creature. The special structure of the mouth apparatus, powerful jaws allow literally tearing pieces out of the victim's flesh.
Character and lifestyle features
Praying mantises are solitary predators that do not leave their habitual place of residence or do it in exceptional cases: in search of places richer in food, running away from a stronger enemy. If males are able, if necessary, to fly over sufficiently long distances, then females, due to their larger size, do this extremely reluctantly. They not only do not care for their offspring, but on the contrary, they can easily feast on them. Having laid eggs, the female completely forgets about them, perceiving the young generation exclusively as food.
These insects are distinguished by their agility, lightning-fast reaction, cruelty, they are able to hunt and eat individuals twice their size. Females are especially aggressive. They do not suffer defeat and will finish off their prey for a long time and purposefully. They hunt mainly during the day, and at night they subside among the foliage. Some species, such as the Chinese praying mantis, are nocturnal. All praying mantises are unsurpassed masters of disguise, they are easily transformed into a dry twig or flower, merging with the foliage. agriculture as protection against harmful insects. Later, this idea had to be completely abandoned, since, in addition to pests, praying mantises actively destroyed bees and other insects useful for the economy.
Social structure and reproduction
Praying mantises live from two months to one year, in rare cases, some individuals cross the line of one and a half years, but only in artificially created conditions. Young animals are capable of reproduction within a couple of weeks after birth. During their lives, females participate in mating games twice, males often do not survive the first breeding season, which in middle latitudes usually begins in August and ends in September, and in warmer climates it can last almost the entire year.
The male attracts the female with his dance and secretion of a specific sticky secret, by the smell of which she recognizes her kind in him and does not attack. The mating process can last from 6 to 8 hours, as a result of which not every future father is lucky – more than half of them are eaten by a hungry partner. The female lays 100 to 300 eggs at a time on the edges of leaves or on the bark of trees. During laying, she releases a special liquid, which then hardens, forming a cocoon or ootheca to protect offspring from external factors.
The egg stage can last from several weeks to six months, depending on the air temperature, after which larvae crawl out into the light, which are radically different in appearance from their parents. The first molt takes place immediately after hatching and there will be at least four of them before they look like their adult relatives. The larvae develop very quickly, and after hatching they begin to feed on small flies and mosquitoes.
Praying mantis natural enemies
In natural conditions praying mantises have a lot of enemies:
- they can be eaten by many birds, rodents, including flying ones, snakes;
- among these insects, cannibalism is very common, eating their own offspring, as well as someone else's young.
In the wild, one can sometimes observe quite spectacular battles between these aggressive insects, as a result of which one of the fighters is sure to will be eaten. The lion's share of praying mantises die not from birds, snakes and other enemies, but from their own eternally hungry relatives.
An interesting fact: If a mantis is attacked by an enemy that is larger than him, then he lifts up and opens the lower wings, which have a pattern in the form of a large, intimidating eye. Along with this, the insect begins to rustle its wings loudly and make sharp clicking sounds, trying to scare the enemy. If the trick fails, the mantis will either attack or try to fly away.
For protection and disguise from their enemies, praying mantises use the unusualness of their color. They merge with the surrounding objects, some species of these insects can literally turn into flower buds, such as the orchid praying mantis, or into a small living twig, which can only be given out by especially mobile antennae and head.
Population and species status
The populations of some species of this unusual insect are becoming smaller, especially for species that live in the northern and central regions of Europe. In warmer regions, the status of the praying mantis population is stable. The main threat to these insects is not their natural enemies, but human activity, as a result of which forests are cut down, fields that are the habitat of praying mantises are plowed up. There are situations when one species displaces another, for example, a tree praying mantis, living in a certain area, displaces an ordinary praying mantis from it, as it is particularly gluttonous, it is stronger and more aggressive than its relative.
In cooler areas, these insects they multiply very slowly and the larvae may not be born until six months, so their numbers are restored for an extremely long time. The main task for maintaining the population is to keep the steppes and fields untouched by agricultural machinery. Praying mantises can be very useful for agriculture, especially the less aggressive species.
Praying mantises are not dangerous to humans despite their sometimes very intimidating appearance and menacing hiss. Some especially large individuals, due to strong jaws, can damage the skin, so they should be kept away from children. Such an amazing and strange insect as a praying mantis leaves no one indifferent. While many scientific minds continue to argue about the main stages of its evolution and ancient ancestors, some, having carefully examined the praying mantis, call it an insect that arrived from another planet, a creature of extraterrestrial origin.