Praying Mantis

Praying Mantis is a member of the Mantidae family. Australia is home to about 80 species. We will not attempt to identify the species illustrated but it is reasonably common in our cold climate garden.

The Praying Mantis is a strange looking insect. It could not be confused with any other six-legged organism. Four, slender rear legs support the body. The thorax, which carries the wings, is long and narrow and is surmounted by a triangular head. Two angles, of the triangle, are formed by bulging, compound eyes. The third angle by a pointed mouth armed with sharply pointed mandibles or teeth. This equipment is typical carnivorous insects.

The head is particularly interesting. A mobile neck supports the head. This enables the insect to twist its head from side to side. This ability, to move the head, may be unique amongst insects.

The forelegs (nearest the head) are perfect insect traps. They are equipped with slender, needle-sharp spines. When at rest the leg sections, with spines, are held together rather like a penknife blade fitting into its handle. At rest the insect has a prayer-like appearance. Once the legs open and clamp onto its prey there is no chance of escape. The prey is held fast and the Preying Mantis is able to feed at its leisure.

The Praying Mantis is a solitary insect except at mating time. Females are usually larger and more heavily built than males. Males have well-developed wings whilst females make do with reduced wings.

After pairing the female usually devours the male and sometimes the hapless male is eaten during copulation.

About a week after mating the female exudes a gummy fluid from her abdomen. The fluid is mixed with air bubbles, dries rapidly and forms a weatherproof mass that has the eggs embedded in rows. This capsule is known as an ootheca (see image).

Depending on weather conditions the eggs hatch within weeks or months. Before hatching some eggs are parasitised by a small wasp. The Praying Mantis may have a life span between eight to twelve months.

The Praying Mantis is an interesting and useful insect. Because they feed on other insects we consider them to be part of biological pest control at Yallaroo.

Please remember that poisonous sprays will kill Praying Mantis and other useful insects as well as destroying harmful insects. Most insects found in the garden are either useful of benign.

By Warren and Gloria Sheather