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Mantidae

Praying Mantis on fingers

Praying mantise

Mantidae is an insect family that includes mantises and praying mantises. Mantises are found all over the world and are known for their distinct appearance, predatory behaviour, and ability to remain motionless for long periods of time.

Some call them “Forest Ladies” because of the dainty form and graceful motion of several of our smaller species, which is quite appropriate; however, several lace-wings share the same fanciful name. The common species is known as “Rear Horses” in the United States because of the way they stand at rest with their forelegs raised. The Romans called them “Soothsayers,” and at least two species, Mantis religiosa in Europe and Mantis Carolina in the United States, are known as “Praying Mantis” due to their religious attitudes.

They are most common in tropical countries and are well represented in Australia; Westwood’s “Synopsis of the Species of Mantidae,” published in 1880, lists 624 described species, only 30 of which are from this country. Kirby’s Catalogue (1904) increases the list to approximately 843 and adds 5 new species to our list of described species.

Interesting Mantidae facts

Mantises are typically elongated, with a distinct triangular head that can swivel 180 degrees. They have three simple eyes and two large compound eyes. Their front legs have been modified for grasping prey and are frequently held in a “praying” position, hence the common name.

Mantises are carnivorous and feed primarily on other insects, but some larger species may prey on small vertebrates such as lizards and hummingbirds. They are ambush predators known for their patience, frequently remaining motionless for extended periods of time before striking their prey with their powerful front legs.

Reproduction: In some species of mantises, the female will eat the male after mating, earning them the nickname “praying mantis cannibal”. However, this behaviour does not occur in all species, and some male mantises have evolved adaptations to avoid being eaten by females.

Mantises can be found in a variety of habitats, including forests, grasslands, deserts, and even cities. Some species have evolved to live in specific environments, such as the rainforest floor or desert sands.

Mantises have several defence mechanisms to protect themselves from predators. Some species have brightly coloured wings that they can flash at predators to startle or confuse them, while others may release a noxious chemical to deter predators.

Mantises have been both revered and feared in many cultures throughout history. They are associated with death and danger in some cultures, while they are associated with good luck or spirituality in others.

With the exception of a few curious little neuroptera (Mantispa), which can be distinguished by their lace-like wings, members of this family cannot be confused with other groups. The long slender prothorax, which supports a very flexible narrow head, forms an elongate neck, to which are attached, well in front, the formidable spined fore legs, which are rarely used as means of progression, but as weapons of offence to capture other insects upon which they prey, for they are tigers of the insect world, lying in wait, perfectly motionless, with their coloration adapted to the foliage amenable to capture.

The two apical portions of the thorax and slender body, which in the ordinary type is covered with two pairs of wings, the first pair narrow like that of a grasshopper and the hind pair fan-shaped, with the two pairs of slender legs, are orthopterous; while the front portion, consisting of the narrow head turned down in front into a pointed month, with large projecting eves and thread like antennae, is not.

The female lays her eggs in an almond-shaped mass on the twigs or bark of trees, consisting of regular rows of elongate eggs piled above each other, with the tips all pointing outward, and which are covered with an enveloping coat of a sticky brown secretion that hardens in the sun and becomes dry and papery. When the baby mantids hatch from the eggs, they are held together by two slender threads attached to the anal appendages (cerci); they hang head downward, like a mass of tiny squirming caterpillars, until they cast their first larval skin, at which point they fall to the ground, soft, wingless, little stick-like creatures ready to hunt for themselves. These egg masses are conspicuous objects in the bush and orchard. Each is the home of hundreds of tiny creatures that consume thousands of smaller, harmful insects, and should never be disturbed by the gardener.

The thick-shouldered green mantis is the most common species in our gardens “Orthodera ministralis is more commonly known as Orthodera prasina, but because it was described many years ago under the first name, the latter has become a synonym. It is about 1 1/2 inches long, somewhat stout and thick-set, with the front portion of the neck-like prothorax as wide as the head, fitting up against it, and narrower where it joins the mesothorax. It has well-developed wings and flies well, but it usually remains immobile and alert, resting on a leaf as green as its own bright coat, its treacherous deadly forelegs raised, ready to lash out and seize any unwary moth or butterfly that comes within reach, and it will often secure one larger than itself. It is found from Tasmania to north-west Australia, and it has been recorded in New Zealand, where it could have been easily introduced from Australia with foliage plants.

Archimantis latistylus is the most common species in Sydney, and the genus Archimantis contains five species described from Australia. It is 4 inches long, has large well-developed wings, and varies in colour from dull green to brownish yellow; the female is smaller, with a thicker body and shorter wings. The forewings, or more properly elytra, are brown, rounded at the tips, and frequently marked in the centre with a dark spot; the hind wings are semi-transparent. It blends in with the dull-colored foliage of the Leptospermum and Melaleuca bushes, which blends well with its own uniform tint. This species will be illustrated in colour in McCoy’s “Zoology of Victoria, Decade xiii.”

Zoology of Victoria

Archimantis montrosa, a slightly larger species, is from the Victoria River in North Australia; the type was collected by Elsey, naturalist on the Gregory Exploring Expedition in 1856. A. armatus, a smaller brown species from the same area, has the protliorax strangely spined on the outer margins and the undersurface covered with coarse tubercles.

Tenodera australasiae is another well-known species that can be found in Sydney’s low scrub during the summer months. It was first described and illustrated in colour by Leach in his “Zoological Miscellanies.” “West wood claims that the type is in the Banksian Collection at the British Museum, which dates from 1815. It is found throughout Australia and is also native to New Caledonia, New Guinea, and Ceram.
It is a more vibrantly coloured insect. 3 1/2 inches long, yellowish brown in general; the apical edge of the elytra striped with green, followed by a stripe of pale salmon colour, and the rest semi-transparent; the wings are tinged with pink along the front margin, the whole mottled with black and brown, thickest towards the body.

There are a number of active little black or dark brown mantids with strangely shaped bodies that run around on the dull coloured tree trunks, rarely flying (though many of them are winged), but relying on their imitative tints to avoid detection; several of our species belong to the Genus Paroxypilus.

Mantidae is a diverse and fascinating insect family known for their distinctive appearance and predatory behaviour. Because of their ability to remain motionless for long periods of time and their cannibalistic mating behaviour, they are a popular topic of interest among insect enthusiasts.

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