Mantis

Mantis

Mantodea (or mantisesmantes) is an order of insects that contains over 2,400 species and about 430 genera in 15 families worldwide in temperate and tropical habitats. Most of the species are in the family Mantidae.

The English common name for the order is the mantises, or rarely (using a Latinized plural of Greek mantis), the mantes. The name mantis refers only to members of the family Mantidae. The other common name, often applied to any species in the order, is “praying mantis“, because of the typical “prayer-like” posture with folded fore-limbs, although the eggcorn “preying mantis” is sometimes used in reference to their predatory habits. In Europe and other regions, however, the name “praying mantis” refers to only a single species, Mantis religiosa. The closest relatives of mantises are the termites and cockroaches (order Blattodea). They are sometimes confused with phasmids (stick/leaf insects) and other elongated insects such asgrasshoppers and crickets, or other insects with raptorial forelegs such as mantisflies.

The name mantodea is formed from the Ancient Greek words μάντις (mantis) meaning “prophet”, and εἶδος (eidos) meaning “form” or “type”. It was coined in 1838 by the German entomologist Hermann Burmeister.

 

Anatomy and morphology

Mantises have two grasping, spiked forelegs (“raptorial legs”) in which prey items are caught and held securely. In most insect legs, including the posterior four legs of a mantis, the coxa and trochanter combine as an inconspicuous base of the leg; in the raptorial legs however, the coxa and trochanter combine to form a segment about as long as the femur, which is a spiky part of the grasping apparatus. Located at the base of the femur are a set of discoidal spines, usually four in number, but ranging from zero to as many as five depending on the species. These spines are preceded by a number of tooth-like tubercles, which, along with a similar series of tubercles along the tibia and the apical claw near its tip, give the foreleg of the mantis its grasp on its prey. The foreleg ends in a delicate tarsus made of between four and five segments and ending in a two-toed claw with no arolium and used as a walking appendage.

The mantis thorax consists of a prothorax, a mesothorax, and a metathorax. In all species apart from the genus Mantoida, the prothorax, which bears the head and forelegs, is much longer than the other two thoracic segments. The prothorax is also flexibly articulated, allowing for a wide range of movement of the head and forelimbs while the remainder of the body remains more or less immobile. The articulation of the neck is also remarkably flexible; some species of mantis can rotate the head nearly 180 degrees.

Mantises may have a visual range of up to 20 metres. Their compound eyes may comprise up to 10,000 ommatidia. The eyes are widely spaced and laterally situated, affording a wide binocular field of vision and, at close range, precise stereoscopic vision. The dark spot on each eye is a pseudopupil. 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. Nocturnal flight is especially important to males in search of less-mobile females that they locate by detecting their pheromones. Flying at night exposes mantises to fewer bird predators than diurnal flight would. Many mantises also have an auditory thoracic organ that helps them to avoid bats by detecting their echolocation and responding evasively.

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, opaque, and leathery. They function as camouflage and as a shield for the hind wings. The hind wings are much broader, more delicate, and transparent. They are the main organs of flight, if any. Brachypterous species are at most minimally capable of flight, other species not at all. The wings are mostly erected in these mantids for alarming enemies and attracting females. Even in many macropterous species the female is much heavier than the male, has much shorter wings, and rarely takes flight if she is capable of it at all.

The abdomen of all mantises consist of ten tergites with a corresponding set of nine sternites visible in males and seven visible in females. The slim abdomen of most males allows them to take flight more easily while the thicker abdomen of the females houses the reproductive machinery for generating the ootheca. The abdomen of both sexes ends in a pair of cerci.*

 

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The behavior of most mantises are exclusively predatory while exceptions are predominantly so. Insects form their primary prey, but the diet of a mantis changes as it grows larger. In its first instar a mantis eats small insects such as tiny flies or its own siblings. In later instars it doesn’t or cannot profitably pursue such small prey. In the final instar as a rule the diet still includes more insects than anything else, but large species of mantis have been known to prey on small scorpions, lizards, frogs, birds.

Chinese Mantids have been found to gain benefits in survivorship, growth, and fecundity by supplementing their diet with pollen. In replicated laboratory tests the first instar actively fed on pollen just after hatching, thereby avoiding starvation in the absence of prey. The adults fed on pollen-laden insects, attaining fecundity as high as those fed on larger numbers of insects alone.

About their defense generally, mantises protect themselves by camouflage and concealment. When directly threatened, many mantis species stand tall and spread their forelegs, with their wings fanning out wide. The fanning of the wings makes the mantis seem larger and more threatening, with some species having bright colors and patterns on their hind wings and inner surfaces of their front legs for this purpose. If harassment persists, a mantis may strike with its forelegs and attempt to pinch or bite. As part of the threat display, some species also may produce a hissing sound by expelling air from the abdominal spiracles. When flying at night, at least some mantises are able to detect the echolocation sounds produced by bats, and when the frequency begins to increase rapidly, indicating an approaching bat, they stop flying horizontally and begin a descending spiral toward the safety of the ground, often preceded by an aerial loop or spin.

Mantises, like stick insects, show rocking behaviour in which the insect makes rhythmic, repetitive side-to-side movements. Functions proposed for this behaviour include the enhancement of crypsis by means of the resemblance to vegetation moving in the wind. However, the repetitive swaying movements may be most important in allowing the insects to discriminate objects from the background by their relative movement, a visual mechanism typical of animals with simpler sight systems. Rocking movements by these generally sedentary insects may replace flying or running as a source of relative motion of objects in the visual field.

Organic gardeners who avoid pesticides may encourage mantises as a form of biological pest control. During fall in temperate regions, mantis females typically deposit an ootheca on the underside of a leaf or on a twig, and in some species these are harvested commercially. If the egg case survives winter, the offspring, called nymphs, emerge in late spring or early summer. The nymphs have voracious appetites and typically cannibalize each other if they cannot find an adequate supply of aphids and other small insects. Tens of thousands of mantis egg cases are sold each year in some garden stores for this purpose. However, mantises prey on neutral andbeneficial insects as well, basically eating anything they can successfully capture and devour.

The mantis in the photo is Empusa Pennata, common names conehead mantis in English and mantis palo in Spanish, is a species of praying mantis in genus Empusa. It can be found in Spain and parts of Portugal, France, Lebanon,Central and Southern Italy and Greece.

Empusa pennata generally has large and thin body along with a great flying apparatus by their pair of wings and light body mass. Also, they are mostly found in perennial herbs and scrubs. There are three ways for insects to find mates: chemical, acoustic, and visual signals. Cryptic coloration is significant to some predatory insects like Mantids, which is used to protect themselves from predators and to capture their prey.

*Photos took from our organic garden.