Have you ever seen a praying mantis? The name comes from the fact that these insects often look like they have hands folded as if in prayer, but this is not really the case of course. These limbs they have are actually used to catch prey, not to pray! So what types of prey do these neat creatures eat? You may be surprised to find that one of the things many people don’t know about a praying mantis is that they often eat each other!
Praying mantis preying on cicada. © Joi Ito.
About praying mantises
Praying mantises are from the Mantidaefamily and are closely related to cockroaches and termites. They are often confused with other elongated insects such as grasshoppers, phasmids (stick or leaf insects) and crickets.
A praying mantis is very fast
A praying mantis is strong and can grasp its food in such a way that there is no chance for escape. These legs are very fast and can grab a bug before the bug even knows what is happening. The mantis can strike at speeds of about 30 to 50 one-thousandths of a second! They are masters of stealth as well, holding not only very still for long periods of time and awaiting the right time to move, but they can also blend into their environment very well, almost being camouflaged. Being meat eating carnivores, they will eat almost any bugs around, including spiders.
They eat their own kinds as well
Sexual cannibalism in praying mantis. © Oliver Koemmerling.
Female praying mantis are known to eat their male counterpart as they do practice sexual cannibalism. It happens most often after mating but sometimes before. Their behavior is quite similar to some spiders like black widows.
How a mantis eat it’s food?
Once a mantis catches its food and holds it tight, it begins to turn it to the correct position and then it does something that many other bugs don’t do, it bites the head off its food! This of course makes it easier to deal with the prey where it is not trying to crawl away. The bad part of this is that there are times when a female praying mantis will bite the head off of a male praying mantis when they mate. It is not a common practice in the wild, but it does indeed happen.
Their favorite food
As for favorite foods, it really is limited to those things that will cross paths with it. This may include a variety of small flies (like gnats and fruit flies), butterflies, crickets, cockroaches, grasshoppers, bees, wasps and even beetles. They typically don’t hunt per se, and instead wait, very still, until another bug crosses close by. They can then pounce on them and the other bug has little chance of escape.
Does the size of the other bug matter?
Well, in a way it does. They would much rather have a larger insect as it is more food, but they will eat any size. It is not uncommon to see them eat things bigger than themselves including small lizards (watch on YouTube)! Because it is a meat eater it is going to go for anything it can to make a meal out of. They will spend little time moving about, however, and will often do so only if the area they are in seems to be depleted of food. In that case, they move to find a new stream of food sources. Regardless, they are interesting predators and should be watched closely to see their unique eating habits.
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