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Mantids

Insects
Cockroaches
Mantids

Mantid fast facts

  • Large or medium sized insects.
  • They have two pairs of wings, but the front pair is leathery and held flat over the body when at rest.
  • The antennae are long, and may be longer than the entire body length.
  • Cerci (two small appendages sticking out of the rear of the insect) are visible, and the hairs on the cercus are very sensitive to air movement in cockroaches, which explains why it is almost impossible to catch them.
  • Biting mouthparts and raptorial fore legs.
  • About 2000 species worldwide, mainly tropical about 35 species reach Southern Europe.
  • Mantid size ranges from 1 - 15 cm long.
 praying mantis laying an egg sac

Mantids

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 with.

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