Praying Mantis: Characteristics, Habitat, Reproduction, Feeding

Praying mantis or campamocha is a hemimetabolo insect belonging to the Mantidae family. Various names are associated with this species, such as Santa Teresa and Tatadiós, due to the position assumed by its front legs, raised and flexed under its head, as if it were praying.

It is also known as a poisonous mother, since it has been mistakenly associated with the idea of ​​being a lethal animal, which annihilates its prey with poison. The campamocha is an efficient and ferocious predator, capturing a wide variety of insects, small reptiles, birds, and mammals.

Praying mantis. Source: Alvesgaspar [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

Its body is elongated, with two pairs of wings and six legs; two front and four rear. The main characteristic of this species is the triangular shape of its head. In this there are simple and compound eyes, which give it great visual development.

The structure of the thorax allows the Praying Mantis to move its head up to 180 degrees, facilitating a wide variety of movements, which it uses to better visualize its prey.

It has a smooth, almost hairless skin. However, in some regions of the body it presents granules, lobes or spines. The coloration can be greenish, brown or grayish, presenting the ability of mimicry.

Article index

  • one

    Characteristics

    • 1.1

      Sexual cannibalism

    • 1.2

      Size

    • 1.3

      Chest

    • 1.4

      Abdomen

    • 1.5

      Extremities

    • 1.6

      Head

    • 1.7

      Hearing

    • 1.8

      Coloration

  • two

    Taxonomy

  • 3

    Habitat and distribution

  • 4

    Reproduction

    • 4.1

      Courtship

    • 4.2

      Copulation and mating

  • 5

    Feeding

  • 6

    It is poisonous?

  • 7

    Behaviour

    • 7.1

      Defensive sounds

    • 7.2

      Deimatic behavior

    • 7.3

      Pheromones

  • 8

    References

Characteristics

Praying mantis in human hand. Вальдимар [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

Sexual cannibalism

The Praying Mantis has a behavior typical of 90% of the members of its gender; they kill the male during or after copulation. This is known as sexual cannibalism.

The reason for this behavior has been extensively studied. It is generally carried out by females with a low quality of feeding, which also attract fewer males than those that are well fed.

Males approach starving females with great caution, fearing cannibalization.

Once copulation is complete, the act of dismounting the female by the male is extremely risky, because at that moment is when there is the greatest possibility that the female will kill and consume her partner.

Research has indicated that there is an increase in the duration of the mating, probably because the male waits for the least risky opportunity to descend from the back of the female, where he is copulating.

Size

The Praying Mantis has a slim and elongated body. The females are usually larger than the males; they measure 7 to 9 centimeters compared to the 6 or 7 centimeters in length of the male.

Chest

The thorax of the praying mantis is thinner than the abdomen. However, it is one of the most powerful parts of the body. Its design allows the head to rotate up to 180 degrees. This structure has a cleft where the only ear that this insect has is located.

Abdomen

The abdomen is covered by an exoskeleton. It is elongated and rounded, constituting the main part of the animal’s body. It connects to the thorax and supports the 4 hind legs and the two pairs of wings.

Extremities

The Praying Mantis has 6 legs, two at the front and four at the back. The front legs are used as hunting weapons, since with them it catches the prey. The anterior tibia extends, retracting like an automatic tool. They have spines that allow them to capture other insects.

Its common name is due to the position it adopts with its front legs: raised and folded under the head, as if it were praying. However, this position is usually assumed to hunt. The hind limbs are used for walking, propelling forward, and maintaining balance.

Head

Source: pixabay

The head is triangular in shape, provided with 2 compound eyes, which allow the insect to see images and colors. Among these are 3 simple eyes, aligned in the front. The eyes of this animal have eight types of photoreceptor cells, making it have excellent night vision.

The campamocha can mobilize the head multidirectionally. It has two antennas, which when it moves its head or turns it, act as sensors that help in the search for its food.

Hearing

The Praying Mantis has a single auditory organ, highly sensitive to low and high frequencies. It is located in the ventral midline, between the metathoracic coxae. This tympanic structure has 32 chordotonal sensilia, organized in 3 groups. Innervation comes from the metathoracic ganglion.

Coloration

The campamocha can be brown, green, yellow and black. This variation in shades could be associated with camouflage, which allows it to go unnoticed by predators.

Some investigations indicated that a change in the environmental temperature could cause the variation in the color of this insect. Those born in a cold climate changed to a green hue after molting, when they were exposed to the light and heat of the sun’s rays.

Taxonomy

Animal Kingdom.

Subkingdom Bilateria.

Superfilum Ecdysozoa.

Phylum Arthropoda.

Subphilum Hexapoda.

Class Insecta.

Infraclass Neoptera.

Order Mantodea.

Suborder Mantodea.

Family Mantidae.

Genus Mantis

Species Praying Mantis (Linnaeus, 1758)

Habitat and distribution

Praying mantis is the most widespread species of the genus Mantis in Europe. It is also found in Asia and North Africa. In 1899 it was introduced to North America, being the official insect of Connecticut in the United States.

In the last decades it has been distributed in Australia and in the South American region. There are currently two stable populations in Germany, one in Baden-Württemberg and the other in Rhineland-Palatinate.

Their habitat is temperate or warm regions, so they can be found in any area, as long as it is not too dry or cold. In this way, it usually lives in thickets and deciduous forests.

Generally it is a solitary animal, which lives among the vegetation, finding very little on the ground. The campamocha does not require special conditions to live, although it prefers those habitats with abundant vegetation, where it can easily camouflage itself.

It frequents field environments, grasslands or orchards, where it can find small animals and insects to feed on.

The campamocha is a generalist predator that can live in urban gardens, even tolerating it in spaces urbanized by man. However, it prefers wild areas and natural environments with open spaces, with tall grass and small shrubs.

Reproduction

Source: pixabay

A few days after the last molt, the Praying Mantis begins to show interest in the opposite sex, thus beginning the stage of sexual maturity.

Courtship

In this species there is a preliminary courtship, so that copulation takes place later. Courtship begins with eye contact between male and female; when physical contact is made between them, copulation begins. This stage culminates when the spermatophore is deposited.

For the female to accept copulation with the male, he must perform a ceremony that allows him to get closer to the female, while avoiding mistaking it for prey and eating it.

Using the “stop and go” tactic, the male alternates moments where he stands still, turning his head to see the female, with others swaying, which is believed to mimic the movement of the leaves. Thus he approaches the female from behind.

Copulation and mating

When the male is very close to the female, he opens his wings, trying to facilitate the abrupt jump he makes on the female’s back. There, the male grabs the wings and thorax of the female with his forelegs. Later he arches the abdomen, until the sexual structures of both come into contact.

At this time, the male deposits the spermatophore into a chamber at the base of the oviscapt. After fertilization, the female secretes a white foam, known as the ootheca, where she can lay between 100 and 300 eggs.

This foam, produced by glands in the abdomen, is placed on the branches of the trees, where it begins to solidify. In this way the eggs are protected. The eggs are generally laid in the fall, so the young hatch in the spring.

At the moment of copulation, or when it ends, the vast majority of the time the female attacks the male, devouring his head. This behavior is known as sexual cannibalism.

Feeding

The Praying Mantis is exclusively carnivorous. The main attack technique used by this insect is stalking. In this, the insect remains practically immobile for hours in front of its victims, camouflaging its body among the leaves and branches of the environment.

While it waits for the moment to capture its prey, it calculates its distance and keeps its front legs stowed, waiting to attack. To capture it, it unfolds its front legs and catches it, immobilizing it thanks to the spines it has. This animal devours its prey even while it is alive.

The speed with which the Praying Mantis operates its front legs is such that it could catch a fly while flying. Researchers have determined that this movement could last for 100 milliseconds.

The campamocha is an efficient predator, thanks to several factors. Among these are its excellent sense of sight, the ability to move its head in various directions, and its rapid movements to catch prey.

This insect has a very varied diet; it usually consumes crickets, ants, grasshoppers, flies, butterflies, moths, mealworms and flies. It can also ingest small birds, reptiles, and small mammals such as mice.

It is poisonous?

The lethality of the Praying Mantis is a myth that began to spread based on its great efficiency as a hunter and predator. Its appearance, which is somewhat imposing, also contributes.

This species lacks morphological structures like a stinger, so it could not sting or expel venom. Nor does it have glands that produce some kind of deadly substance.

The fact that the campamocha has a behavior of sexual cannibalism towards the male, has contributed to the false image of poisonous that has been attributed to this insect.

Contrary to the qualification of being a poisonous insect, this animal was introduced to the United States at the beginning of the 20th century, to be used in the biological control of some pests that affected several plantations in that country.

Behaviour

Defensive sounds

Some subspecies of mantis make defensive-type displays when close to predators. In the Praying Mantis, these behaviors include visual and auditory elements, such as stridulation, used as a means of deterrence against a threat.

The defensive sounds of the campamocha are generated by means of a mechanism that involves contact between two organic structures: the teeth that are in the longitudinal veins of the metathorax wings and the pegs located in the abdominal pleura.

This stridulation varies both in time and in the spectral domain. The interspecies variability could be much greater, at least in one of the acoustic parameters, than that which exists in an intraspecies way.

The acoustic output in this species is low intensity, broadband, and non-resonant.

Between both sexes and / or between females that are in different stages of reproduction, there could be variations in the acoustic parameters. For example, the syllabic production rate is different between the male and the female.

These could be related to the existing sexual dimorphism in campamocha and to the morphological limitations related to egg production.

Deimatic behavior

The species of the genus Mantis show this type of behavior from the early stages of their life, being used to scare the predator and have the option of escaping from the threat.

The deimatic visualization in Praying Mantis contemplates the extension and flexion of the wings, revealing two black spots with a white center. This makes the insect appear larger and more threatening to the attacker.

Pheromones

Female Praying Mantis can show some behaviors associated with the release of pheromones, one of these is related to abdominal flexion. During the day, the abdomen of the campamocha does not show variations, being in continuous contact with the wings.

However, at night, females fold their abdomen ventrally, thus increasing the space between this organ and the wings. This calling behavior is maintained throughout the scotophase, culminating with the sunrise.

The Praying Mantis has the ability to release pheromones when they reach 30 days of age. It usually disappears when they are in the gestation period, reappearing two weeks after delivery.

References

  1. Wikipedia (2019). European mantis. Recovered from en.wikipedia.org.
  2. Battiston, R. 2016. Praying mantis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Recovered from iucnredlist.org.
  3. ITIS (2019). Praying mantis. Recovered from itis.gov.
  4. Gary Watkins and Ric Bessin (2003). Praying Mantids. Entomology. Uniersity of Kentucky. Recovered from entomology.ca.uky.edu.
  5. Sheldon Zack (1978). Description of the behavior of praying mantis with particular reference to grooming. ELSEVIER. Recovered from sciencedirect.com.
  6. Alan Gelperin (1968). Feeding Behavior of the Praying Mantis: A Learned Modification. Nature. Recovered from nature.com.
  7. Felipe Pascual Torres (2015). Order Mantodea. Recovered from sea-entomologia.org.
  8. Nanette Kelley (2018). Body Parts of a Praying Mantis. Sciencing. Recovered from sciencing.com
  9. César Gemeno, Jordi Claramunt, Josep Dasca (2005). Nocturnal Calling Behavior in Mantids. Springer link. Recovered from link.springer.com.
  10. Stephanie A. Hill (2007). Sound Generation in Praying Mantis (Mantodea: Mantidae): Stridulatory Structures and Acoustic Signal. Recovered from jstor.org.

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