Last week’s Puzzler was an egg case (called an ootheca) from a Praying Mantis. A cool thing that I learned about an ootheca is that the female will produce one even if she hasn’t mated, in which case, nymphs will never hatch from it since the eggs weren’t fertilized. But from the outside, it looks the same.
Here are some more interesting things about Praying Mantises:
1. If you ask most people the question above in the title, they will say “yes, the male gets eaten after mating.” While this is sometimes true, it is NOT true most of the time, but instead, just another myth, likely stemming from watching mantises in captivity. In the wild, scientists estimate that females eat the males less than 30% of the time.
2. Praying mantises are the only insects that are capable of turning their heads (triangular shaped) 180 degrees. This gives them a great advantage over both their prey and predators like birds who might eat them. They have excellent vision, capable of seeing movement 60 feet away!
3. North America is home to 20 species of praying manis while tropical regions around the globe have many more kinds. Worldwide there are 2300 species of praying mantis ranging in size from 2- 6 inches long.
4. Praying mantises are related to termites and cockroaches.
5. Praying mantises have sharp spines on their first pair of legs, which they often hold bent in front of them, like in a praying position. This habit explains their common name. These spines are useful in holding their prey.
6. Praying mantises are the only animals on earth that have only ONE EAR! This doesn’t look like a “regular” ear and is the middle of their thorax. With it they can detect the ultrasonic chirps of bats–bats that want to eat them!
7. Adult praying mantises have wings and can fly. When not in use, the wings, like grasshopper or cricket wings, are kept folded on top of their bodies, making them less obvious to a casual observer. The immature mantises, called nymphs, do not have wings.In addition to wings, mantises have 3 body parts (head, abdomen and thorax), 3 pairs of legs, and one pair of antenna.
8. When threatened, praying mantises might try to make themselves look bigger by standing on their hind legs and spreading apart their first pair of legs. One day last fall when I was on a bike ride, we came upon a mantis in the middle of the road doing just that–as if it could “scare off” a speeding car! (Rest assured, I moved the menacing mantis to a safer spot before I left) Praying mantises can bite if threatened but in my experience handling them, this is rare and I have never been bitten. Unless someone is squeezing it or otherwise roughly handling it, our NA praying mantises seem unlikely to bite.
9. Praying mantises, like other insects, will grow by molting, or shedding their skin. When they are getting ready to do this, they will stop eating. They can go for up to two weeks without food.
10. Praying mantises are masters of camouflage. With their brown or green bodies they disappear into the background, making them hard to see. Unsuspecting insects can get caught when they venture too close.