OCTOBER
1990

 

 

 

By
Tom Turpin
 
Professor of
Entomology
Purdue University

 

 

 

 

 

10-11-90

PRAYERFUL INSECTS

One of the most recognized insects is the praying mantis.  How did the insect get such a pious name?

The word “mantis” is based on the Greek word meaning prophet or soothsayer.  While in wait for a victim, the mantis takes a rather pious stance which no doubt suggested its name - praying mantis.  The European mantis even has a scientific name descriptive of the posture, Mantis religosa.

The praying mantis is no pacifist.  It would probably be more appropriately called the “preying mantis” for it is an effective predator.  Most mantises are colored in such a way as to camouflage their presence.  They hunt by waiting.  They have small heads and are among the few insects with a distinctive neck. The neck allows them to turn their heads so they can better spot their prey.  Their large compound eyes give them great vision for detecting movement and judging distance.

All mantises are carnivorous and feed on almost any insect including flies, crickets, moths and even wasps.  Mantids are well-equipped to catch their food.  Their forelegs are modified into a fearsome insect-catching device that functions like a pocket knife.  These raptorial forelegs include spines to aid in holding a victim which is caught in ambush.

Once mantids have procured a meal, they eat with the aplomb of a sophisticated diner at the finest of restaurants.  However, their dining manners belie the appetite of a woodchopper.  They can consume as many as twenty flies in one day.

It is this appetite and food habit that makes the praying mantis a beneficial insect.  The insect is a friend of gardeners everywhere.  However, mantis populations are seldom high enough to destroy large populations of pest insects.  Therefore, many gardeners give mother nature a little hand by purchasing and placing mantis egg cases in gardens and flower beds.

The purchase of praying mantis egg cases may or may not rid a garden of undesirable insects.  However, the act of doing so makes most gardeners feel good.  Besides they take great pleasure in seeing a mantis in the garden.  Especially if that mantis happens to be chowing down on some other insect!

 

Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Olivia Maddox