Approximately 2,000 species of praying mantis exist worldwide. The mantid measures approximately 2 1/2 inches in length. Most species have the ability to fly short distances. Their head has the ability to turn, similar to a humans, unlike other insects. The mantid easily turns its head 180 degrees and can see a distance of up to 60 feet, according to the Oregon State University.
The mantid’s coloration varies from shades of green to a brown. They blend quite well when hidden amongst foliage which gives the insect the ability to hunt unsuspecting prey. The insect sports six legs with two in front that have the ability to hold prey while the mantid leisurely dines on it. The front legs have spines that stick to the insect and allow the mantid to firmly hold its prey.
Highly beneficial to the home gardener, the mantid eats a wide range of insect pests. Their diet consists of aphids, beetles, leafhoppers, caterpillars and flies. The mantid is also highly cannibalistic and will consume its own species with no regrets. They have a very territorial instinct and will guard their shrub or plant to the death against intruders. A female and male will come together to mate but the female often kills and consumes the male after mating occurs.
The mantid has a short life span that normally only averages a year. They emerge from their eggs looking similar to adults. Each fall the female mantid will lay up to 400 eggs that are safely enclosed in a hard shell substance, known as an ootheca. Once the female lays her eggs she dies. The egg sac will survive through the winter months. When spring arrives the eggs begin to hatch. The young mantid emerges from its eggs as a competent hunter who immediately begins to consume insects.
The praying mantis is an excellent insect to have in any garden to help prevent pests. Never use insecticide sprays around the mantid because they are highly susceptible to the sprays and will quickly perish.
Egg sacs of the praying mantis are available at garden supply stores or online. The home gardener can purchase several egg sacs to place around the home gardener and naturally combat insect pests.
The egg sacs can be hatched indoors in an aquarium but the tiny nymph mantid must be placed outside promptly when they hatch because they will quickly cannibalize each other if left together for too long.
The praying mantis can be kept as an interesting and educational pet by children. One will easily thrive in a small habitat if food is provided for it.