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Mantid Madness

September 13, 2012

By Wendy Lovelady

As Bugfest fast approaches, I’ve been thinking more about mantids, those alien-like arthropods with long, graceful limbs that belong to the order Mantodea.  The Praying Mantis is the most commonly-known, but there are more than 2,400 species of mantid found in temperate and tropical habitats worldwide.

Photos of Conehead mantis and Malaysian Dead Leaf mantis

Yes, I said alien-like. I think these two are tuning in to the Mother Ship right now. (That’s a Conehead Mantis on the left, Malaysian Dead Leaf Mantis on the right.)

One of the best parts of working at our Museum is the daily opportunity to learn about weird, exotic, or unusual animals. Mantids are an excellent example.  They are named after the Greek word for “prophet.” They are sometimes confused with walking sticks or leaf bugs, but they’re more closely related to cockroaches and termites.  Their forelegs are called “raptorial legs,” because they use those spiky appendages to capture and grasp prey. If there is an insect equivalent to the famed Velociraptor, the mantid has got to be it.

Photo of a Chinese Mantis eating a cricket

A mantis munches on a cricket. Apparently they like drumsticks.

Photo of a Texas Unicorn Mantis watching a monarch fly by

Wings are also on the menu.

Mantids have earned their reputation as an apex predator. They prey on other insects mainly, but sometimes they go for the big kill: lizards, frogs, even small mammals.  When a female mantid is making eggs, watch out—she is even larger and more aggressive than normal.  Even cannibalism has been documented.

Photo of a mantis eating a spider

You can keep some mantids (mostly native species) as pets, but I understand they don’t like eating things they haven’t killed themselves. How adorably self-sufficient.

But mantids manage to be elegant, beautiful, even hypnotic despite their ferocity. In some African folklore, mantids could restore life to the dead. In Chinese poetry, they symbolize courage and fearlessness. Some species are almost ridiculously ornamental. Just look at these beauties:

Photo of an Iris Mantis on a flower

An Iris Mantis on a flower

Photo of an Idol Mantis female

An Idol Mantis female. I think she’s a finalist on America’s Next Top Mantis Model.

Photo of spiny flower mantis on leaf

This Spiny Flower Mantis spent hours perfecting her antennae eyebrows.

Photo of male Idol Mantis on branch in "threat" pose

This male Idol Mantis would like to scare you away with his “threat display.” Is it working? Or do you just want to dance with him?

Bugfest, for those of you who haven’t been, is a full day of insect insanity here at the Museum. We celebrate these crawly critters with informational displays, crafts, kiosks, and the succulent offerings of Café Insecta. Yes, we serve real bugs in the dishes. It’s probably the only time we get to turn the tables on these tiny biters. Come out and savor it for yourself, this Saturday, September 15.

Photo of child biting a mantis toy

I don’t know if mantids will be on the menu, but I do know there will be Cricket Moon Pies. Bring your own RC Cola to prove you’re a real Southerner.

All photos courtesy

3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 13, 2012 12:32 pm

    Reblogged this on NC Museum of Natural Sciences Blogs and commented:

    Learn more about this year’s BugFest’s featured bugs, mantids!


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