Throughout the ages the mantis was seen as magical, holy, or demonic. The mantis, Greek for prophet Grecians, is a slender insect with a unique pair of front legs which gives it the look of a person in prayer.
Hold right it there! Don't cringe just because it's an insect. With formidable hunting prowess and mythical lifestyle, this six-legged critter was fabled throughout history.
What makes a mantis?
Well, there is a mantis in the movie Kung Fu Panda. But, what makes up a mantis in nature? Let's start with its attributes. This stealth package has a head which can rotate 180 degrees, five eyes, six legs, and a long chest (almost like the neck of a giraffe). The rest of the mantis is its abdomen, a large bell-shaped one. Mantis are winged, but they don't fly very often.
Snare and snag
The legs are what makes the mantis a mantis. Studded with downward curved spikes, the front pair is used to snare and snag. To reflex faster than a blink, these raptorial legs are synced with their long antennae and other sensors.
How many are there?
There are 2400 different species of the mantis. Most come from the Tropics. From the Americas to Africa, Asia to Oceania, they persist. The rarest species live in Brazil and Indonesia.
Cloak and Dagger
Mantises are fast in close striking distances. To get close to their prey, they have patience and a lot of it. They sit and wait, but they also need a good enough disguise for shrouding their intent, to hide their not-easy-to-hide claws. So, they also mastered camouflage.
Mantis prefers to blend with the background. The species which lives among leaves takes on a green colour. Some look like leaf litter. They know how a leaf or twig may rustle in a gentle breeze. In the same manner, they perform slow dances as if inebriated. Then, there are some which live on orchids. Evolution has made them to resemble a flower, with just one exception—this doppelgänger hunts.
Deadly, yet calculated
There is a common meme floating across the internet where a female mantis is eating a male after mating. But, there is more to it. In truth, a male doesn't fall victim to its much larger partner. Rather, he sacrifices himself for the greater good. He gives up so that his mate will have more energy. More energy leads to more eggs, which in turn results in more baby mantises.
In beliefs, in lifestyles
This insect was depicted in many cave paintings. It has a place among Egyptian gods— only a handful of insects reached this level. Even in the present day many forest tribes venerate them.
The life of mantis is often followed by Shaolin monks across Indochina. Mantis can exemplify the teaching of Chinese scholar San Tzu. The little insect can feign wobbly demeanour while hiding its true potential — as taught in 'The Art of War'.
Mantis Fun Facts
Female mantises are always bigger than the male. Some of the larger species live in Asia and Africa. Giant African Stick Mantises, not to be confused with stick insects, can grow up to 18 inches!
Mantises can be kept as pets. In fact, they are one of the most popular pets around the world. Like any other hobby, there are whole communities of mantis keepers. You can visit websites such as mantidkingdom.com, usmantis.com, mantisplace.com to delve into the hobby of mantis rearing.
There are some insects which can be confused for mantises. The mantidflies may resemble a mantis, with more love for flight. But in reality they are completely different species of insects. The mantidflies are from lacewings order Neuroptera, while mantises have their own group called Mantodea.