The “Preying” Mantis

January 2020

Praying mantisThe Praying Mantis is common along Putah Creek. They get their name from their folded front legs that look like they are praying, but that is deceptive because those praying legs are the deadliest part of this voracious predator. Colored to match their surroundings, the Mantis awaits in camouflage to ambush soft-bodied insects like moths, crickets, grasshoppers, flies, and other insects many of which are considered pest species. To capture food, the enlarged spine covered forelegs move so quickly that it is difficult to follow with the eye and suddenly the prey is pinched in an inescapable grasp so the Mantis can dine at a leisurely pace. As a formidable predator, the praying mantis plays an important role in the ecosystem.

With over 2400 species, Mantises are distributed worldwide in temperate and tropical regions. They are odd-looking and often difficult to find when they are perched among the leaves where they sit in a frozen upright posture with an elongated thorax that looks like a “neck”. They can appear somewhat comical as the large triangular head swivels around 180 degrees scanning its surroundings with two large bulbous eyes with what looks like tiny pupils. The mantis has gained some notoriety because the female will reportedly devour the male during the mating process.

The egg case is an amazing feat of engineering. Our most common creekside Mantis lays up to 200 eggs inside a foamy deposit attached to a branch that soon hardens into a water-sealed tube that protects the eggs through the winter. Upon hatching, the newly hatched nymphs look much like tiny versions of their parents. In the photo a baby mantis drops from the eggcase! As you walk along the creek at this time of the year, see how many egg cases you can find and it will give you an indication as to just how many mantises will be present during the summer. Even though they are difficult to find, they are there, but with a trained eye, you can find them.