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Common Name: Mantids / Praying Mantids

Greek Origins of Name:  Mantodea is derived from “mantis”, the Greek word for these insects.

Spot ID Key Characters:

  1. Elongated prothorax
  2. Grasping (raptorial) front legs for catching prey
  3. Triangular head


Hemimetabola, i.e. incomplete metamorphosis (egg, nymph, adult)


Polyneoptera, closely related to Orthoptera and Blattodea


Common in tropical and subtropical climates.  Approximately 1 family and 20 species in North America and 8 families and ~1800 species worldwide

Life History and Ecology:

Mantids have elongate bodies that are specialized for a predatory lifestyle:   long front legs with spines for catching and holding prey, a head that can turn from side to side, and cryptic coloration for hiding in foliage or flowers.   Mantids are most abundant and most diverse in the tropics; there are only 5 species commonly collected in the United States and 3 of these have been imported from abroad.

Appearance of Immatures and Adults:


  • Filiform antennae
  • Head triangular with well-developed compound eyes
  • Mouthparts mandibulate, hypognathous
  • Prothorax elongate with large, spiny front legs adapted for catching prey
  • Front wings thickened, more slender than hind wings
  • Tarsi 5-segmented
  • Cerci short, multi-segmented


  • Structurally similar to adults
  • Developing wingpads often visible on thorax

Economic Importance:

Generally considered to be highly beneficial insects because they feed on other insects.   Since they are cannibalistic and also feed on other beneficial insects, their value as biocontrol agents is probably rather limited.

Major Families:

Mantidae — this family includes all of the common North American mantids.

Fun Facts:

  • Mantids are the only insects that can turn their head from side to side without moving any other part of the body. Many humans mistakenly interpret this behavior as a sign of intelligence.
  • A female mantid may eat her mate while he is still linked with her in copulo.  This behavior is probably more common in captivity than in the wild.
  • Most mantids are cryptically colored to blend with their environment.  A pink Malaysian species spends most of its time hunting for prey on pink orchids.
  • Although mantids usually feed on insect prey, they have been known to catch and eat small frogs, lizards, and even birds

The European mantid (Mantis religiosa) is a beneficial predator that has been purposely introduced throughout much of the world as a biological control agent. The island country of Dominica, a former British colony located in the West Indies, issued this stamp on December 29, 1988.

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