Backyard Buddies

Photo: David Cauchi


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You may see them in the grass, among leaves, on walls, near lights at night or in your veggie patch. Wherever there are insects to eat you might find a mantid.

There are about 2,000 different species across the world, ranging from 10 to 120 millimetres in body length and their characteristic way of standing with forelegs held together as if they were praying. Only the males have wings fit to fly, helping them to move around looking for a mate.

The mantids mimic their natural environment and look like they are part of the plant. This makes them invisible to their prey, which includes beetles, crickets and spiders. They will sway back and forth to look like a leaf and wait. When an unsuspecting victim moves close enough, the mantid darts to grab it, bites its head off and eats its prey.

Most species of mantid have a body cavity, which helps them hear the sonar of bats at night, when the mantids are most active. Lizards, birds and small mammals are also predators of mantids.

In some species, the female will eat the male after mating. The female lays a clutch of up to 400 eggs in a frothy cocoon that hardens to protect the eggs while the nymphs develop inside. When the nymphs hatch, they will immediately start hunting for food, which often includes another hatchling. This cannibalistic trait stays with the young mantid throughout its life. All through the summer, they shed their skin many times as they grow into adults.

Did you know? 

Mantids are the only insects that can turn their head 180 degrees or a half circle. Their large eyes can spot movement as far as 35 metres away. They are fast enough to catch mosquitoes and flies in mid-air.

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