Natural Enemies Gallery

Mantids, or Praying Mantises

Hosts or Prey

Most any medium-sized, active insect, commonly winged adults

Identification

Mantids (mantises) are among the largest insects. Adults generally range from 2 to 5 inches (5–12 cm) long. Adults and nymphs (immatures) are elongate and usually brown, green, or yellowish; a single species can have all 3 color phases, such as the California mantid, Stagmomantis wheeleri =S. californica. The front wings are leathery and narrow. The hind wings when unfolded are wide and fan-shaped.

Mantids commonly remain motionless for long periods, waiting for prey to come within reach. At rest the distinctly enlarged front legs are held up in front of the head, giving the appearance the insect is praying. The triangular head can rotate about 180 degrees and has large, bulging eyes.

Eggs occur in a 2-row mass up to 1-1/2 inches (38 mm) long attached to twigs or other surfaces. The egg mass is frothy and pale when first laid, then dries to a brown, hardened, paperlike material.

Lookalikes

Mantids are distinctive and unlikely to be confused with other insects. Mantids are in the order Orthoptera, which includes grasshoppers that during flight also expose wide, fan-shaped hind wings.

Life Cycle

Mantids develop through three life stages. Nymphs hatch from an egg during late winter to spring and develop through about six or seven, increasingly larger instars before maturing into adults. Nymphs and later adults are present from spring to fall.

Females deposit their eggs in a mass in the fall. Overwintering is as eggs. Adults and nymphs generally do not survive the winter. Mantids have one generation per year in California.

Habitat

Mantids occur in most lower-elevation habitats of California. They commonly wait on flowers for flying insects to arrive, then pounce on the prey.

Female mantids sometimes kill and consume males during courtship. This does not occur during most matings. Consuming males is not necessary for females to produce eggs.

Commercial Availability

The introduced Chinese mantid (Tenodera aridifolia sinensis) and Mediterranean mantid (Iris oratoria) are available by mail order and sold in some retail garden stores. Although mantids are fascinating creatures, they are of no benefit for biological pest control.

Mantids feed on any insect they can catch, and commonly prey indiscriminately on beneficial and nonpest species including bees, butterflies, and syrphids. Even if mantids specialized on pests this likely would be of little benefit; mantids are relatively inactive, and despite their large size each individual consumes relatively few insects.

Species

Over 2,000 mantid species occur in the world, mostly in tropical and subtropical regions. At least 9 mantid species occur in California. The Arizona or bordered mantid (Stagmomantis limbata), Bistanta mexicana, California mantid (Stagmomantis wheeleri =S. californica), Litaneutria ocularis =Litaneutria obscura, and small gray mantid (Litaneutria pacifica) are native species. Chinese mantid (Tenodera sinensis), European mantid (Mantis religiosa), Mediterranean mantid (Iris oratoria), and South African mantid (Miomantis caffra) are introduced.

More Information

Scientific classification:

  • Phylum: Arthropoda
  • Class: Insecta
  • Order: Mantodea
  • Family: Mantidae
Adult praying mantid.
Adult praying mantid. Credit: Jack Kelly Clark, UC IPM Program
Adult Mediterranean mantis, Iris oratoria, on a Rudbeckia blossom. Credit: Jack Kelly Clark, UC IPM Program
Adult Mediterranean mantis, Iris oratoria, on a Rudbeckia blossom. Credit: Jack Kelly Clark, UC IPM Program Credit: Jack Kelly Clark, UC IPM Program
Praying mantid egg case.
Praying mantid egg case. Credit: Jack Kelly Clark, UC IPM Program
Praying mantis nymph on purple coneflower, eating a fly.
Praying mantis nymph on purple coneflower, eating a fly. Credit: Jack Kelly Clark, UC IPM Program