Praying Mantises, insects in the order Mantodea were so named because of the prayer-like posture of their folded front legs. In the eyes of their prey there’s nothing divine about mantises. There are more than 2,300 species of mantises worldwide and while they vary in size, shape and color they all have one thing in common, they are voracious predators. Cincinnatians can encounter two remarkable mantis species; the native Carolina Mantis (Stagmomantis carolina) and the introduced Chinese Mantis (Tenodera sinesis).
The Carolina Mantis varies in color from light-green to medium-gray and is normally between 1-1/2″ and 2-1/2″ long. These mantises range from the eastern and central United States south through Central America and into northern South America. Carolina Mantis nymphs have the ability to alter their color to match their habitat each time they molt. Adult male Carolina Mantises are strong fliers and will actively stalk their prey. Adult female Carolina Mantises have shortened wings and are heavier bodied; they cannot fly so they lie in wait to ambush their prey.
The Chinese Mantis varies in color from light-green to brown and is normally between 3-1/4″ and 4-1/4″ long. Native to Eastern Asia the Chinese Mantis was allegedly introduced to the United States late in the 19th century to control agricultural pests. By most accounts the Chinese Mantis has done little to control pests despite having become established throughout most of the United States. In some areas the presence of the larger Chinese Mantis has negatively impacted the smaller Carolina Mantis.
Both Carolina and Chinese mantis hatchlings emerge from egg cases in spring and are so small they can be dispersed by strong winds. As the young mantises grow so too does their choice of prey; tiny fruit flies are replaced by increasingly larger flies, bees and moths. Adult Carolina Mantises can capture medium-sized butterflies while adult Chinese Mantises can capture hummingbirds. Both species will mate in late summer or early autumn, leaving their egg cases on the stems of shrubs or bushes. These egg cases will endure even the harshest winters to deliver the next generation the following spring.
Mantises are among the world’s most recognizable and beloved insects. Their grace and ferocity have inspired poets and martial artists. Children the world over have marveled at them in backyards and kept them as pets in quart jars. If you see a mantis this summer please take a few minutes to observe and appreciate one of Cincinnati’s most amazing insects.
Winton Ray / Curator of Invertebrates, Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden