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The Praying Mantis Essay, Research Paper

The Praying Mantis

(Mantis Religiosa)


Introduction Classes First Things First Key Features Basic Features Diet &

Combat Style Reproduction Growth & Development Self-Defense Cultural

Significance Praying Mantis Kung-Fu


“Praying Mantis” is the name commonly used in English speaking countries to

refer to a large, much elongated, slow-moving insect with fore legs fitted for

seizing and holding insect prey. The name, “Praying Mantis” more properly

refers to the specific Mantid species Mantis Religiosa or the European Mantis,

but typically is used more generally to refer to any of the mantid family. The

name is derived from the prayer-like position in which the insect holds its long,

jointed front legs while at rest or waiting for prey. It is also called the

“preying” mantis because of its predatory nature.


Many questions have risen regarding the praying mantis. Such questions include

how many different species there are in the animal kingdom. Estimates range

from 1500 to 2200 different mantid species WORLDWIDE. The most common figure

given, though, is about 1800. The ways the Mantid’s are classified in the

Animal Kingdom. There is agreement that the collection of mantid species make

up the Mantidae family of insects. The Mantidae family, in turn, is part of the

order/suborder Mantodea that includes a variety of mantid-like species. But the

existing literature does not reflect a clear consensus about what insect order

Mantodea belong in. Some have placed Mantodea in the Dictyoptera Order-with the

roaches. Others place Mantodea in the Orthoptera Order-with crickets and

grasshoppers. Finally, some believe that Mantodea constitute their own

independent order of insects. There seems to be an emerging consensus around

this position.


The Mantis Religiosa was first named such and classified by the inventor

of the modern system of biological taxonomy Carolus Linnaeus. The three common

species of mantids in North America are the European mantis (Mantis religiosa),

the Chinese mantis (Tenodera aridifolia sinensis), and the Carolina mantis

(Stagmomantis carolina)

distinguishing features of these three species:


The Chinese mantis is the largest of the three, reaching lengths of three to

five inches. The European mantis, however, is a little smaller than the Chinese

variety and it only reaches lengths of two to three inches. And finally the

Carolina mantis is smallest of the three usually less than two inches in length.


The Chinese mantis is mostly light brown with dull green trim around its wings.

The European mantis is more consistently bright green in color. The Carolina

mantis is a dusky brown or gray color, perhaps to blend in with the pine forests

and sandhills of its native South.

Egg cases

The best way to distinguish the three species is by the shape of their egg cases

or ootheca. The egg case of the Chinese mantis is roughly ball-shaped, but has

a flattened area on one side. The European mantid’s egg case is rounded without

this a this “flat portion” The Carolina mantis has an egg case that looks like a

short elongated tube, often spread out along a portion of twig or stem.


The Chinese mantis can be found throughout the United States. The European

mantis is most common east of the Mississippi. And the Carolina mantis makes

its home in the Southeastern part of the U.S.

Other Physical Characteristics

One of the most notable features of the Carolina mantis is that their wings only

extend about 3/4 of the way down the abdomen.


The European mantis is also distinguished as the only of three species that

bears a black-ringed spot beneath its fore coxae.

Species Origins The Carolina mantis is one of 20 mantid species native to North

America. The European and Chinese mantids were introduced to America around the

turn of the century. The European mantis is said to have first been brought to

Rochester New York in 1899 on a shipment of nursery plants. The Chinese mantis

arrived in 1895, from China (duh), on nursery stock sent to Philadelphia,



Key features of mantid physiology include a triangular head with large compound

eyes, two long, thin antennae, and a collection of sharp mouth parts designed

for devouring live prey. Because of its compound eye, the mantid’s eyesight is

very good. However, the sharpest vision is located in the compound eye’s center

so the mantis must rotate its head and look directly at an object for optimum

viewing. Fortunately, the mantis can also rotate its head 180 degrees to see

prey or approaching threats, the mantis can scan a total of 300 degrees. The

mantid’s eyes are very sensitive to light, changing from light green or tan in

bright light, to dark brown in the dark. An elongated prothorax or neck that

helps gives the mantis its distinctive appearance. The prothorax is also quite

flexible, turning and bending easily which aids in its locating and seizing of

prey. Two long, “raptorial” front legs that are adapted to seize and hold prey.

These legs have three parts:

1. The lower part of the legs or tibia have sharp spines to firmly grasp prey

2. These spines “fold-up” into matching grooves in the upper femur, creating a

“jackknife” effect that allows the insect to assume its distinctive “praying”


3. Finally, the upper coxa functions like a shoulder to connect the femur and

tibia to the mantid’s body.

4. Four other long, thin legs designed for climbing and movement. These legs

regenerate if broken or lost, but only during the molting process, but

unfortunately limbs that regenerate are often smaller than the others. Since a

full grown adult no longer molts, he or she cannot replace lost limbs. The

front “raptorial” legs do not regenerate and if a mantis loses one of them it

will not survive

5. Two pairs of wings that fold neatly against its abdomen when not in use. A

front set of leathery tegmina wings that overlay and protect the ‘inner? wings.

Back wings used for flight and to “startle” enemies

6. A large, segmented abdomen which contains the mantid’s digestive system and

reproductive organs. The male has 8 abdominal segments. The female is born

with 8 segements, but with each successive molting, the 6th segment gradually

overlaps the 7th and 8th until 6 segments remain at the adult stage

7. 60% of mantid species–especially those that have wings–also have an

“ultrasonic ear” on the underside of their metathorax The mantid is an

auditory cyclops, unique in the animal kingdom. That is, it has only a single

ear. The ear is made of a deep, 1 mm long slit with cuticle-like knobs at

either end and two ear drums buried inside. The ear is specially tuned to very

high “ultrasonic” frequencies of sound–25 to 60 kilohertz. Apparently, the ear

is designed to primarily respond to the ultrasonic echo-location signal

emitted by hunting bats. The mantis primarily uses its ultrasonic ear while

in flight. When a relatively slow flying mantis sense a bat’s ultrasonic echo

at close range, it curls its abdomen upwards and thrusts it legs outward

creating drag and resulting in a sudden aerial “stall”. The mantid in-flight

maneuver creates an inherently unpredictable flight pattern?sometimes looping up

and around, banking left or right, or a sudden spiral towards the ground. This

tactic is apparently very effective for avoiding a hungry bat’s attack


Abdominal Structure?the female mantis has 6 segments. the male 8 segments. Size?

the female mantis is usually larger than the male Behavior?the male mantis is

more prone to take flight in search of a mate while the female often remains

more stationary


Basically the praying mantis is extremely predacious ESPECIALLY the female. The

mantid eats only live prey, or at least prey that is moving, and hence, appears

alive. Some might go as far as saying that the praying mantis will eat

“anything,” even reptiles and small birds, but others indicate it prefers “soft

bodied” insects which it can easily devour. These dietary preferences very by

species. Males are generally less aggressive predators than females.

Cannibalistic behavior is present in the mantid, both as a nymph and as a adult.

Baby mantids will eat other babies, adults will eat their own or others’ babies,

and adults will eat each other. Mantids are diurnal, that is, mainly eats

during the day. But mantids also congregate and feed around artificial light

sources. Mantids usually wait motionless for unsuspecting prey to get within

striking distance–a “sit-and wait” and wait or ambush strategy, but can also

slowly stalk prey. The mantid often begins to undulate and sway just before

striking its prey. Some have speculated this is to mimic the movement of

surrounding foliage. Others suggest that this behavior aids in the visualization

process. They attacks by “pinching” and impaling prey between its spiked lower

tibia and upper femur. The mantid’s strike takes an amazing 30 to 50 one-

thousandth of a second. The strike is so fast that it cannot be processed by the

human brain. It uses the view before and after the strike and “tricks” you into

seeing what occurs in-between. After securing the prey with its legs, rapidly

chews at the prey’s neck to immobilize it. If well fed, mantids will

selectively choose to devour “select” parts of its prey and discard the rest.

If any part of the prey is dropped during feeding, the mantid will not retrieve

it. After eating, will often use its mouth to clean the food particles from the

spines of its tibia, and then wipe its face in a cat-like manner.


One of the most interesting, and to humans, disturbing features of mantid life

is the female’s tendency to eat her mate. During late summer, a female

mantis, already heavy with eggs, is believed to excrete a chemical attractant

to tempt a willing male into mating. The current state of research seems to

indicate that the female sometimes devours the male during the mating process

(between 5-31% if the time) The dead male may also serve as a source of protein

for the female and her young. Recent research indicates that fertilization can

take place without the male’s death and that his demise is not necessary to the

process. The male’s sperm cells are stored in a special chamber in the female’s

abdomen called the spermatheca. The female can begin lay her eggs as early as a

day after mating. As the eggs pass through her reproductive system, they are

fertilized by the stored sperm. After finding a suitably raised location–a

branch, stem, or building overhang–special appendages at the base of her

abdomen “froth” the gelatinous egg material into the shape characteristic of the

particular species as its exits her ovipositor. By instinct, the female twists

her abdomen in a spiral motion to create many individual “cells” or chambers

within the ootheca or egg case. The egg laying process takes between 3 and 5

hours. The ootheca soon hardens into a paper mache like substance that is

resistant to the birds and animals that would attempt to eat it. The carefully

crafted pockets of air between the individual egg cells acts insulation against

cold winter temperatures. The number and size of egg cases deposited by a

female also varies by species and she dies sometime after her final birthing


The life-cycle of North American mantid species runs from spring to fall.

When springtime temperatures become sufficiently warm, the mantid nymphs emerge

from the ootheca. They drop toward the earth on thin strands of stringy

material produced by a special gland in their body–often descending in a

writhing mass-before breaking free to live solitary lives. Mantid nymphs are

hemimetabolous (did I spell that right)?that is, they undergo only a partial

metamorphosis from nymph to adult stage. Mantid nymphs appear like small adults

(about 3/8′ long) except that their wings are not fully formed. The nymphs go

through a series of 6-7 molts-the casting off of the outer layer of skin-before

reaching their adult form. When molting, the nymphs attach their “old,” loose

skin to a stick or rough surface with a secreted glue-like substance, chews an

opening in it, creates a split or tear on top of the thorax and down the back,

and then wriggles free. The mantid’s leg casings do not split open, and many

nymphs die when unable to fully kick free of their old skin. Young mantids feed

on whatever small insects they can find including each other. The mantids

continue to grow until the time for mating comes in late summer, and then the

whole process begins again.


The mantid primary enemies are birds, mammals (especially bats), spiders, snakes,

and, of course, man. The mantid has four primary defense mechanisms against

those who would prey on it. Camouflage-the mantid’s brown and green color

allow it to blend in with surrounding foliage. Stealth-the mantid’s ability to

stay perfectly still for long periods of time causes it be overlooked by many

would-be predators. Startle-display when confronted by an enemy the mantid can

rear up in its hand legs and spread and rattle its wing in an act of

intimidation. Ultrasonic ear used when encountering bats in flight.

Unfortunately, the mantid has no defense against pesticides which it ingests

through its prey.

Incidentally, there is a form of martial art called Praying Mantis Kung-Fu

Please refer to the section entitles Praying Mantis Kung-Fu at the end of the

document for more information


The word “mantis” comes from ancient Greece and means “diviner” or

“prophet”. Many cultures have credited the mantid with a variety of magical


France-French peasants state that If a child is lost, the

mantids praying-stance points the way home.

Turkey & Arabia-The mantid always prays toward Mecca. Southern U.S.-The brown

saliva of the mantis will make a

man go blind or kill a horse.

4. China-Roasted mantid egg cases will cure bed wetting.

Africa-If a mantis lands on a person it brings them good luck and A mantis can

bring the dead back to life.

European Middle-Ages-The mantis was a great

worshipper of God due to its time spent in prayer.

Perhaps the best measure of the hold mantids have on our cultural imagination is

the fact they are almost surely prominently pictured on any book about insects

intended for a popular audience interesting and common names that the Praying

Mantis has been commonly acquainted with

1. Sooth-sayers-(England)-from the Greek roots of the word “mantis”?

meaning “prophet.”

2. Devil’s Rearhorses, Devil horses (Southern U.S.)-from the mantid’s

tendency to rear up on its hind legs when threatened.

3. Mulekillers (Southern U.S.)?from the (false) belief that the brown

saliva emitted by a mantis will kill a mule.

Camel-crickets (Unknown)


If one talks about Praying Mantis Boxing then one must know that its founder and

patriarch was someone, named Wang Lang. However it is unknown when exactly he

lived and what kind of family he came from but certainly his family was not

wealthy. Wang Lang was famous for his passion for martial arts and was an

outstanding person. He traveled a lot around the Empire Under Heaven (China),

while studying different styles of boxing and had many friends skillful in

martial arts. Once, during the mid-autumn festival Wang Lang went hiking to Lao

Shan mountains. He looked at the magnificent cliffs above and boundless rivers

below and felt astonished by this mighty vastness. When out of curiosity he

decided to climb even higher, following the curvy and steep path going up the

mountains, Wang Lang suddenly heard the quiet sound of a bell ringing somewhere

nearby. Walking along the path Wang Lang soon reached an ancient temple, abode

of hermits and decided to enter in order to get some food and water. The first

thing he saw were taoist monks practicing the art of boxing in the main plaza of

the temple. Wang Lang counted about sixty positions and styles that he had never

seen before. Then Wang Lang asked the taoist monks a question but was not

regarded with an answer, he asked again but the answer was just a silence

randomly interrupted by the sounds of their movements. Finally, Wang Lang

decided to attract the attention of one of the practitioners by pulling his arm.

The monk became angry seeing a great boldness of this uninvited guest and lack

of etiquette and jumped on Wang Lang with clinched fists, ready to punish him.

However the monk was immediately knocked down by Wang Lang’s quick response. A

dozen of monks ran to help their religious brother but all failed. Monks started

yelling and called the abbot. When the abbot came Wang Lang explained to him the

situation that he just wanted to ask for food and water and did not have any bad

intents. Abbot replied: “All these are my disciples and monks and I am strongly

ashamed by their failure, would you please indulge me with a just fight?” Wang

Lang agreed but lost the fight.Then Wang Lang realized the depth of the abbot’s

martial skills and immediately left the temple. Wang Lang went deep in the

woods and decided to rest, he laid down and started thinking about his

unsuccessful fight and the reasons why he lost it. Suddenly he saw two white

praying mantises on the tree branch. One of them was holding a fly in his front

legs and the other tried to take away the prey. During the fight one mantis was

attacking and another would jumping from side to side, ducking and counter-

attacking with the lightning speed. Wang Lang concentrated all his mind on this

fight and suddenly realized the hidden principals of outstanding flexibility and

agility of praying mantis’ attacks, counter-attacks and moves. He then

immediately returned to the taoist temple and started a fight with the abbot. As

soon as the venerable abbot saw that hand techniques of Wang Lang were

noticeably different from the last time they had fought and also had a feeling

that this fight would be won by Wang Lang, the abbot asked about the source of

such a technique, but Wang Lang continued fighting in complete silence. After a

while the abbot asked again but did not get an answer. Only when Wang Lang won

the fight, did he tell the abbot the reason of his success. The abbot

immediately sent his disciples to the woods to catch about ten pairs of praying

mantises. When the insects were delivered the abbot put them on the table and

set them to fight each other. In this manner Wang Lang and the abbot spent quite

a long time learning movements and tactical positions of the praying mantises,

engaged in deadly fights. Then the two masters developed a new, secret technique

of boxing which was significantly different from other ones. Later Wang Lang

said to the abbot: “Even though you and I developed a new style of boxing, we

should not forget the cause and the source of our knowledge. If the praying

mantis while striving for food and existence did not reveal us its secrets, we

would never develop this new style.” The abbot replied: “You are right! In order

to perpetuate the memory of the source, we shall call this style “The Gates of

Praying Mantis” (Tang Lang Men). Wang Lang and the abbot developed twelve

characters – guiding principles of the praying mantis fighting technique: zhan

(contacting), nian (sticking), bang (linking), tie (pressing), lai (intruding),

jiao (provoking), shun (moving along), song (sending), ti (lifting), na

(grabbing), feng (blocking), bi (locking). Also they developed formal sets of

praying mantis technique, such as: Beng bu (crushing step), Lan jie

(obstruction), Ba zhou (eight elbows), Mei hua lu (plum blossom technique) and

Bai yuan tou tao (white ape steals the peach). However, this new style for a

long time was a privilege of the taoist monks of the Lao Shan taoist religious

community and it was kept as a part of the secret taoist doctrine and closed to

lay people. Wang Lang, for the rest of his days, lived in the taoist temple

practicing self cultivation, developing Praying Mantis boxing and following the

way of the Tao…”


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