What do you get if you cross a praying mantis with a termite? An insect that says grace before it eats your house! OK… so that’s an old joke, but we still like it!

The praying mantis doesn’t say grace, and it doesn’t really pray. So how did it come by its unique name?

If you’ve ever seen a picture of a praying mantis (or a live one close-up), you probably noticed its front legs, which are bent and held at an angle that makes it look like the insect is praying. This peculiar posture is what gave these insects their unique name.

Mantises are part of the scientific order Mantodea, which contains more than 2,200 species in 15 different scientific families. Most of these species are in the scientific family Mantidae, so you’ll sometimes hear these insects referred to as praying mantids. However, it’s perfectly fine to call them all mantises, too.

In Europe, the name “praying mantis” refers to one specific species: Mantis religiosa. This insect made its way to the United States in 1899 in a shipment of plants.

It now can be found all over the country. Despite not being native to the United States, it’s the official state insect of Connecticut!

Sometimes people misspell “praying mantis” as “preying mantis.” “Preying” mantis might actually be more appropriate, though, since the praying mantis can be a ferocious predator.

Praying mantises are carnivorous insects. That means they eat other insects — and sometimes even small reptiles or birds — instead of plants.

Their triangular heads feature five eyes — two big compound eyes with three simple eyes between them — and can swivel 180 degrees to search for prey. They use their brown or green coloring to camouflage themselves on plants, waiting for moths, crickets, flies, grasshoppers and other insects to come their way.

When an insect gets close enough, they use their front legs to capture their prey. They move so quickly that it can be difficult to see with the naked eye. Their legs also have small spikes that help them hold prey in place.

Other insects aren’t the only praying mantis prey, though. Praying mantises are also well-known for their notorious mating behavior. Adult female praying mantises often eat their mates (adult male praying mantises) after — or sometimes during — mating!

Although praying mantises resemble stick-like insects or grasshoppers or crickets, their closest relatives are actually termites and cockroaches. So maybe that old joke wasn’t so far off the mark after all!

 

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  1. We saw a praying mantis resting on the building pillar as we walked out to the playground on the first day of school. We are so glad your site had more information about praying mantises…thanks!
    Mrs. Rudd and the Fabulous Firsties in 224!

    • YOWZA, what a cool experience for you and your AMAZING students to witness, Mrs. Rudd! We think the Fabulous Firsties in 224 are an awesome group of WONDERers!! It’s so much fun to learn something new and we can’t wait to continue exploring with all of you! Have a WONDERful day! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Does a praying mantis really pray?
  • Should praying mantises actually be called “preying” mantises?
  • What are carnivorous insects?

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Try It Out

You don’t have to go away to have fun at Camp What-A-Wonder. This is the kind of camp that you take with you wherever you go! So head outside and let’s look for creepy crawling critters!

Do you have any praying mantises in your yard? What about at your local park? Wherever you live, you’re sure to find some interesting insects nearby.

For fun, grab a friend and head outside for a lawn safari! Use a magnifying glass to get up-close and personal with insects around your house.

When you have a better idea of what insects live near you, create an insect feeding station to show them that you’re glad you’re neighbors!

Can’t get enough Camp What-A-Wonder? Join us on Twitter tonight!

The camp experience continues tonight, June 30, on Twitter from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. EDT (hashtag #WonderChat). Gather around our virtual campfire and learn all about creepy crawling critters from Professor Bug!

 

Still Wondering

Visit National Geographic Xpeditions’ Insects We Love and Hate lesson to learn to classify insects into “likeable” and “not-so-likeable” categories.

 

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