One of the coolest members of the insect family is the praying mantis: a carnivorous and sometimes cannibalistic critter. In this lesson learn about the fascinating process that is the praying mantis life cycle.
Praying Mantis 101
The praying mantis is an aggressive insect that is considered notorious in the insect world.
First, why they are called the praying mantis. The two front legs are bent into a position that resembles the act of praying. When hunting, the insect sits upright with their front legs bent, waiting for prey to come close enough to eat.The praying mantis is part of a larger group of insects called mantids. They live for 6-12 months and die after mating or laying eggs, depending on the gender. Adults grow to be between 0.5 and 6 inches in total length and they are comprised of three body segments: an elongated abdomen, the head and thorax, and the antennae.
The antennae are used for smelling. Males and females can be differentiated by the number of segments in their abdomen: males have eight segments and females have six, though females are typically larger in size.Mantises can rotate their head up to 180 degrees, unique in the insect world. They also have two compound eyes, each with multiple lenses, and three simple eyes, each with one lens, between the compound eyes. The two larger compound eyes give the organism more peripheral vision without having to turn the head and provide detail, while the smaller simple eyes are better at detecting movement. This combination enables them to see prey up to 60 feet away, a magnificent feat when you’re not even six inches tall.
Most praying mantises are brown or green in color, allowing them to blend in with their surroundings. This makes it harder for both predators and prey to see them. They hunt during the day and wait to ambush prey, pinning them down with spikes on their front legs.
Adults eat moths, crickets, grasshoppers, flies, and other insects, as well as other praying mantises (cannibals!).
Praying Mantis Life Stages
The praying mantis has three life stages: egg, nymph, and adult. This is considered incomplete metamorphosis, where the juveniles look just like adults, only smaller. This is in contrast to complete metamorphosis, in which the organism has four life stages and juveniles look significantly different than adults.
The fact that the praying mantis has three distinct life stages and undergoes incomplete metamorphosis classifies them as hemimetabolic. Rather than significantly changing shape after metamorphosis, the praying mantis just grows larger until its final size is achieved and its wings develop.Many are aware of the praying mantis’ reproduction, meaning that it’s not uncommon for the female to kill the male during or shortly after mating.
If the male does survive mating, he will die shortly naturally afterwards, so don’t feel too bad for him. Mating occurs in fall and females lay between 100 and 400 eggs just before winter. About two weeks after fertilization takes place, females who don’t mate will still lay eggs, but they do not hatch because they aren’t fertilized.
The female lays the eggs on a plant’s stem or leaf and encases them in a frothy liquid from her abdomen. This froth eventually hardens, encasing the eggs and protecting them over winter. This casing is called ootheca.
As the temperature warms in the spring, the eggs begin to hatch. Juveniles hatch through a small valve leading out of the egg compartment. At this point they are called nymphs. Freshly hatched nymphs initially stay close to their hatching site and will try to eat each other. Eventually they leave, feeding on tiny insects like fruit flies.
They continue growing through late spring and early summer, molting their exoskeleton as necessary during growth. It’s not uncommon for a growing praying mantis to molt 10-12 times before reaching full size. The periods between molts are called instars.Individuals become full-size adults by late summer, after which they continue hunting, feeding, and will eventually mate in late fall, starting the process over again. Many adult praying mantis species have wings that develop after their final molt. Predators of the praying mantis include bats, birds, frogs, spiders, and even fish.
The praying mantis is an insect with three distinct life stages, starting as an egg, continuously molting as a nymph, and voraciously eating and hunting as an adult. The term hemimetabolism is characterized by the three life stages and indicates incomplete metamorphosis. The praying mantis lives up to one year, dying after or during mating or laying eggs.
Eggs are protected over the winter months by a casing called oothica. Praying mantises eat a variety of insects, as well as other praying mantises, and they are vicious ambush predators.