What Do Praying Mantis Eat?

The world of insects has fascinated scientists for many years. Their unique adaptions, body designs, and colors have been a topic of discussion in the scientific community. The praying mantis is one such creature whose dietary habits deserve a thorough deep dive. So, what do praying mantis eat? 

What are praying mantis?

The name, ‘praying mantis‘, might bring up images of a religious insect faithfully making its weekly or daily sermons to the insect god. But alas, that isn’t true! The praying mantis gets its name from the position of its legs when it is at rest. The praying mantis has very long front legs that they hold in a position that reminds people of praying. These legs also play a key role in helping the insect catch and grasp its prey. Mantises exhibit quite a remarkable skill and flexibility in guiding their forelegs, which has helped them handle prey of diverse sizes and shapes. They also possess the extraordinary ability to change both the force and angle of their grasp, thereby effectively catching a broad spectrum of potential prey items.

While the praying mantis may not be a religious guy, it sure knows how to catch a good meal!

A praying mantis
A praying mantis, Credit: depositphotos.com/saharrr

What do praying mantis eat?

The praying mantis feeds on anything they can catch, such as flies, beetles, crickets, moths, and grasshoppers. In fact, some of the larger species of mantids eat other animals, such as lizards, frogs, or even hummingbirds. Sometimes, they even feed on other mantids!

Praying mantids are known to be ambush predators, meaning they sit and wait or slowly stalk and clamp down on an insect of the appropriate size. The mantid’s grasping response is incredibly fast. So, the poor, targeted prey rarely has any scope of escape. 

One interesting adaption that has allowed praying mantids to carry on with their carnivorous diets is their ability to blend well with their surroundings. You might have heard of the term ‘camouflage’, an adaption widely used by many insects and animals. The chameleon may be the most widely cited example of a species that can camouflage well. However, praying mantes are known to have this ability too! Mantises are either green, brown, or both, which allows them to blend in with the sticks and leaves. Moreover, they can even change colors after they molt or shed their exoskeleton. This allows them to better blend in with their surroundings. In fact, their blending abilities are so great that you can be looking at a praying mantis and not even be aware of it because it looks very similar to the plant or branch it is sitting on.

Praying Mantis Camouflage
Praying Mantis Camouflage, Credit: Wikimedia/Ajaykuyiloor

Are praying mantis beneficial for the ecosystem?

You might believe that mantids are beneficial insects since they eat other insects and pests. However, they are usually not considered beneficial for biological control because they are indiscriminate feeders. They will eat pollinators and other beneficial insects such as ladybugs and lacewings. Their habit of eating members of their own species or type also limits the number of mantids that can exist in an area..

The praying mantis is indeed a noteworthy insect species. From its superior camouflage adaption to its ability to turn its head 180 degrees, this insect deserves all the attention from the scientific community. If you wish to see a praying mantis in the wild, it is necessary to keep a sharp lookout as they can be quite difficult to spot.

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