Mantises have large, triangular heads with a beak-like snout and mandibles. They have two bulbous compound eyes, three small simple eyes, and a pair of antennae. The articulation of the neck is also remarkably flexible; some species of mantis can rotate their heads nearly 180°. The mantis thorax consists of a prothorax, a mesothorax, and a metathorax.
Mantises have two spiked, grasping forelegs ("raptorial legs") in which prey items are caught and held securely.
Mantises can be loosely categorized as being macropterous (long-winged), brachypterous (short-winged), micropterous (vestigial-winged), or apterous (wingless). If not wingless, a mantis has two sets of wings: the outer wings, or tegmina, are usually narrow and leathery. They function as camouflage and as a shield for the hindwings, which are clearer and more delicate. The abdomen of all mantises consists of 10 tergites, with a corresponding set of nine sternites visible in males and seven visible in females. The abdomen tends to be slimmer in males than females, but ends in a pair of cerci in both sexes.
Mantises have stereo vision. They locate their prey by sight; their compound eyes contain up to 10,000 ommatidia. A small area at the front called the fovea has greater visual acuity than the rest of the eye, and can produce the high resolution necessary to examine potential prey. The peripheral ommatidia are concerned with perceiving motion; when a moving object is noticed, the head is rapidly rotated to bring the object into the visual field of the fovea. Further motions of the prey are then tracked by movements of the mantis's head so as to keep the image centered on the fovea. The eyes are widely spaced and laterally situated, affording a wide binocular field of vision and precise stereoscopic vision at close range.
Many mantises also have an auditory thoracic organ that helps them avoid bats by detecting their echolocation calls and responding evasively.
Mantises are distributed worldwide in temperate and tropical habitats.
Mantises are generalist predators of arthropods. The majority of mantises are ambush predators that only feed upon live prey within their reach. They either camouflage themselves and remain stationary, waiting for prey to approach, or stalk their prey with slow, stealthy movements. Larger mantises sometimes eat smaller individuals of their own species, as well as small vertebrates such as lizards, frogs, fish, and particularly small birds.
Most mantises stalk tempting prey if it strays close enough, and will go further when they are especially hungry. Once within reach, mantises strike rapidly to grasp the prey with their spiked raptorial forelegs. Some ground and bark species pursue their prey in a more active way.
The fore gut of some species extends the whole length of the insect and can be used to store prey for digestion later. This may be advantageous in an insect that feeds intermittently.
In the wild
As their hunting relies heavily on vision, mantises are primarily diurnal. Many species, however, fly at night, and then may be attracted to artificial lights. Mantises in the family Liturgusidae collected at night have been shown to be predominately males; this is probably true for most mantises. Nocturnal flight is especially important to males in locating less-mobile females by detecting their pheromones. Flying at night exposes mantises to fewer bird predators than diurnal flight would.
Sexual cannibalism is common among most predatory species of mantises in captivity. It has sometimes been observed in natural populations, where about a quarter of male-female encounters result in the male being eaten by the female. Around 90% of the predatory species of mantises exhibit sexual cannibalism.
The female may begin feeding by biting off the male's head (as they do with regular prey), and if mating has begun, the male's movements may become even more vigorous in its delivery of sperm.
The reason for sexual cannibalism has been debated; experiments show that females on poor diets are likelier to engage in sexual cannibalism than those on good diets.
The mating season in temperate climates typically takes place in autumn, while in tropical areas, mating can occur at any time of the year. To mate following courtship, the male usually leaps onto the female's back, clasping her thorax and wing bases with his forelegs. He then arches his abdomen to deposit and store sperm in a special chamber near the tip of the female's abdomen. The female lays between 10 and 400 eggs, depending on the species. Eggs are typically deposited in a froth mass-produced by glands in the abdomen. This froth hardens, creating a protective capsule, which together with the egg mass is called an ootheca. Depending on the species, the ootheca can be attached to a flat surface, wrapped around a plant, or even deposited in the ground.
In a few species, mostly ground and bark mantises in the family Tarachodidae, the mother guards the eggs.
An unusual reproductive strategy is adopted by Brunner's stick mantis from the southern United States; no males have ever been found in this species, and the females breed parthenogenetically. The ability to reproduce by parthenogenesis has been recorded in at least two other species, Sphodromantis viridis and Miomantis sp., although these species usually reproduce sexually. In temperate climates, adults do not survive the winter and the eggs undergo a diapause, hatching in the spring.
Mantises go through three life stages: egg, nymph, and adult. For smaller species, the eggs may hatch in 3–4 weeks as opposed to 4–6 weeks for larger species. The nymphs may be colored differently from the adult, and the early stages are often mimics of ants. A mantis nymph grows bigger as it molts its exoskeleton. Molting can happen five to 10 times before the adult stage is reached, depending on the species. After the final molt, most species have wings, though some species remain wingless or brachypterous ("short-winged"), particularly in the female sex.
The lifespan of a mantis depends on the species; smaller ones may live 4–8 weeks, while larger species may live 4–6 months.
A small terrarium is suitable for the keeping of mantises. Recommended minimum size for adult insects is 20*20*20 cm. The size of the terrarium for larvae depends on the molt stage. The terrarium should be equipped with twigs and driftwood because mantises like to hang on the twigs upside down looking for prey.
There must be soil in the terrarium. The main task of which is to pass air well and not to mold. 2-3 cm of substrate is sufficient for mantises. Coconut substrate, vermiculite, or dry peeled crushed leaves of oak, birch, etc. are perfectly suitable. All of them let air pass through, and also maintain the necessary level of humidity. We do not recommend using soil for flowers, ordinary earth, etc., because they can contain chemicals, harmful bacteria, parasites and viruses, and also, at high humidity, they contribute to the formation of mold!
Mantises are arboreal insects so they do not need shelter. The main thing is the presence of twigs. Do not use materials taken from nature without pretreatment because you can bring in parasites and ticks! The design of the terrarium is important only for the owner because the terrarium is an interior decoration. The use of living plants and natural materials is possible because both plants and mantises need a sense of day and night (the presence of light during the day and darkness at night). The main thing is to make sure that there is no mold, fungi, mites, etc. Therefore, the best solution will be the artificial decorations of the terrarium, which will be safe for your pet and convenient during cleaning.
Moisture is an important criterion for keeping certain types of mantises. To maintain the required level of humidity, it is necessary to spray periodically the soil with settled water. At the bottom, you need to put a drinking bowl with some fresh water. You can use a special decorative drinking bowl for insects, which is made so that the insect can freely get out of it and not drown. As a compromise, you can use a jar lid or any other shallow container. To measure humidity, you can use a special hygrometer for terrariums, which can be positioned so that it is not noticeable and at the same time performs its direct function. Remember! Do not oversaturate the soil with moisture; condensation drops should not form on the walls, this can lead to the formation of mold, the development of fungi, mites and parasites that can kill your pet! Use only settled water.
For full development, the mantis needs an average room temperature of 23-25°C. If the room is colder, then you can use thermal heaters for terrariums. They are also used for some tropical mantis species that require elevated temperatures of 28-30°C and above. To be constantly aware of the temperature inside the terrarium, you will need a special thermometer that can be positioned so that it is not visible and, at the same time, performs its direct function.
Mantises are diurnal animals, so they need lighting. You can use daytime running lights and moonlight lamps to observe insects at night. They can also perform a heating function. Do not put the mantis terrarium in direct sunlight!
Mantises are carnivorous animals, that is, they eat meat. Food for the mantis is any creature suitable for its size. The main thing to remember is that the food should not exceed half of the mantis ' body, otherwise it will be afraid to eat. There are special food insects for terrarium animals that are suitable for all stages of the development of the mantis. You should not feed the mantis with insects or animals without any previous preparation for eating because they can be carriers of diseases and/or be infected with chemicals! Do not leave the remains of the "meal" in the terrarium, because this can lead to the formation of mold and the development of parasites!
The little mantis needs to eat as much as it wants. For good growth, it needs constant availability of food and high temperature. An adult mantis can be fed once a week or two and most importantly not overfed, because some types of adult mantises are prone to overeating, which can lead to a rupture of the abdomen, as well as interfere with it when moving. Feed it in a balanced way! Remember, the more a mantis eats, the faster it grows, but also the faster it ages!
After buying a mantis you want to take it in your arms like an ordinary pet. Mantises can be picked up without fear of causing it injury. Mantises are absolutely harmless to humans! Many mantises have a calm character, are quite slow and can be picked up. But some tropical species can actively defend themselves by striking a pose of threat or quickly run away. Therefore, before you take the mantis, you need to make sure that it is peaceful. If the mantis is in a pose of threat, then it is better to leave it alone. When handling mantises, the following rules must be observed:
- do not make sudden movements, do everything slowly;
- do not blow on the mantis, because it can run abruptly and fall off your hand;
- don't make any noise;
- avoid sudden flashes of light.
In order to take the mantis, you need to slowly bring your hand from the back of the insect and pick it up by gently slipping your fingers under its paws so that it is completely on your hand. Do not press or squeeze it! If it is necessary to examine it, then you can carefully take it by the back, but, at the same time, the mantis can actively defend itself with its paws and spread its wings.