Praying mantises are meat-eating insects that hold their front legs up as if they are praying when they hunt. They may be big as adults, but they don’t start out large. This lesson will teach you about the three stages of the praying mantis’ life cycle.

The Stages of a Praying Mantis’ Life Cycle

Imagine a large, meat-eating insect with big, otherworldly eyes that folds its spiky legs up like its praying. It’s really just waiting to grab victims at lightning speed when they are in striking distance. If you were a bug, you would definitely not want to meet up with a praying mantis because they are always hungry and you would be a snack! But they don’t start out as big, menacing hunters.

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Praying mantises go through a progression called simple metamorphosis, or change in appearance, during their life cycle as they go from egg to nymph to adult. It is called ‘simple’ because the nymph looks a lot like an adult but is smaller with no wings.

Stage One: The Egg

In the fall, the mother praying mantis will look for the perfect plant stem or twig where she will lay her eggs. Since she won’t be around to take care of them, she makes sure they are sheltered in an egg case, which is a protective cover.

Praying Mantis Egg Case
Praying Mantis Egg Case

A praying mantis’ egg case starts out foamy, like the froth on top of a soda. It turns hard and brown to protect the eggs and will be where the eggs spend the winter. There can be as many as 400 eggs, depending on the kind of praying mantis. It’s like having 400 brothers and sisters with you in one small room!

Stage Two: The Nymph

When the weather warms up, nymphs, which are tiny praying mantises, burst out of the egg case and are hungry and ready to eat! These nymphs look similar to adults, except they have no wings like the adults do.

Praying Mantis Nymphs
Praying Mantis Nymphs

Nymphs aren’t picky eaters and look for any insect their size or smaller to munch on, like crickets and flies. If they are hungry enough and there aren’t enough buggy snacks to go around, praying mantis nymphs will chow down on each other!

Nymphs continue to grow, but they have to shed their hard outer shell called an exoskeleton because it doesn’t grow with them, like when you outgrow your clothes. They have wing sprouts that continue to grow, too, and they may shed their skin as many as ten to 12 times before they are fully grown.

Stage Three: The Adult

After they shed their skin for the last time, praying mantises have a full set of wings and are fully-grown adults. They can be green or brownish in color.

Adult Praying Mantis
Adult Praying Mantis

Adult praying mantises may be as long as six inches, which is taller than a can of soda. They have long, barbed front legs that fold like they are praying while they wait for a meal. They sit still, blending in, until a snack walks by and they grab it, hold it down, and eat it, sometimes starting with the head.

Adult praying mantises will mate, the mother will lay her egg case in the fall, and the life cycle starts all over again.

Lesson Summary

Praying mantises have the egg stage, nymph stage, and adult stage in their life cycle, and go through simple metamorphosis, or a change in appearance. The mother praying mantis lays an egg case in the fall where the eggs spend the winter. Nymphs, or tiny praying mantises with no wings, come out of the egg case when it warms up and begin to grow, shedding their exoskeleton, or hard outer shell, as they get bigger, until they are fully grown adults and have developed wings.