Mantids a re also called praying mantis, and can be easily distinguished from the cockroaches by their
strongly-spined raptorial front legs, and their long, narrow prothorax which
forms a moveable neck.
They can be up to 150 mm long. And are usually well camouflaged to blend in with the plant stems and leaves. All mantids are carnivorous and use their front legs to
catch their food. They will eat whatever they can hold on to, and even the very
hardest parts of some beetles and wasps pose no problem to their very strong
jaws which just keep munching through hard and soft parts. Their main prey is insects.
They are very picky and wasteful eaters, and often discard food after taking a few delicate bites.
They often display a swaying movement. It is thought they are trying to camouflage themselves by looking like a leaf stirring in the breeze.
Male mantids are
usually smaller than the female, and may end up as a post-coital meal for the
female, but this occurs more often in captivity than in the wild.
The eggs are
laid in oothecae (egg cases). The egg case and eggs are pumped out of the
abdomen as a frothy substance. This hardens on contact with the air to a tough
material. Above left you can see a female next to the egg case she has just
attached to some twigs.
During her lifetime a healthy, well-fed female can
produce a dozen or more oothecae. When the young hatch they resemble small
worms, but soon moult into small versions of the adult form. When kept in
captivity mantids should be separated as soon as they hatch or else each cage
will soon contain just one well-fed mantid!
Mantids as pets
They make popular pets. In captivity they can be fed on flies (pet shops sell curly winged flies that can barely fly, so are easily handled) or crickets or anything that moves. I have even had one attempt to dine
off my finger in preference to the small, juicy fly I was tempting it