Tuesday, September 15, 2009

T-Rex of the Insect World

This large praying mantis is the Chinese Praying Mantid (Tenodera sinensis). When giving insect programs to children I often refer to them as the "T-Rex of the Insect World". Children are familiar with the giant meat eating T-Rex of the Dinosaur realm, so it isn't a very far leap for them to picture an insect that is reminiscent of this giant. Chinese Mantids are large and in charge when it comes to insect predators. Few insects will escape its grasp once in their sites. Even her stance and those short front legs remind a person of the fabled dinosaur.
Chinese mantids are native to Asia and made their way to the United States probably in a shipment of plants. They were first discovered in Philadelphia in 1896. They now have a stabilized population throughout the Eastern United States and are beginning to expand their range to include portions of the Western United States. They are aggressive hunters and compete for food with other native species of mantids. This could potentially pose a threat to another Missouri Mantid, the Carolina Mantid. This smaller cousin of the Chinese Mantid is native to Missouri and often finds itself prey to the larger more intimidating Chinese Mantid. They also compete for some of the same food resources.
Chinese Mantids reach lengths up to four inches, but I've documented a few close to six inches. These were very large indeed. Their coloring is highly variable and can be solid green, tan, peach or a combination of those colors. Part of the reason that praying mantids are such excellent hunters is their large eyes which can see very well, plus the added ability to be able to rotate their head 180 degrees. Very little escapes their notice. It has even been reported that they have captured and dined on small frogs and hummingbirds. While it is true that they are master predators, sometimes the predator becomes the prey. Birds, large spiders and lizards all dine on these mantids, as well as others of their own kind.
Mating occurs late in the summer, the female emits a strong pheromone (Chemical perfume) that attracts males from great distances. Many of us have heard the tale of how the female will bite the males head off during mating. In some instances this is true, she is certainly capable of it, and if she feels he isn't performing up to her expectations she will chomp his head off and this triggers a response in the male which increases his performance and offers her a tasty nutritious snack that will aid her in egg production. This gruesome beheading doesn't always take place though, most of the time the male walks away with his head, I suppose it all depends on the females mood. Being a male praying mantid is truly living life on the edge. Once mated, the female will lay her eggs within a foamy egg case called an oothecae, this frothy mixture hardens to protect the eggs and once dry resembles styrofoam. These egg cases overwinter and the following spring the young will emerge. Typically the first meal of many of these tiny praying mantids will be their siblings. Fewer than 15% of the newborn mantids survive to adulthood. This spring I had located 25 egg cases in my back yard on various plants, bushes and even on fences. I felt sure we would have large populations of these insects in our yard this year, but the cold wet spring and summer seems to have kept their numbers down. 
Praying mantids can be found in meadows, along roadsides, near gardens, grassy areas, wildflower prairies, most anywhere their insect prey can be found. These insects are favored by gardeners everywhere. Many gardeners order them from  mail order supply houses to releases in their gardens. This is good in theory but typically they will fly away shortly after being released and will probably supply your neighbors garden.
These large insects make excellent pets as well. They are easily kept in aquariums or bug keepers. They eat a variety of insects, so you can catch grasshoppers, crickets and moths in your yard to feed them. They almost seem to possess a personality, they will follow you with their eyes, and they are sure to win you over. Many people ask if they bite, and like most any insect if they are mishandled they can bite. Praying mantids cannot bite through human skin, so it would feel more like a pinch. The males have spines on their front legs and if they should happen to grasp you with them it is possible for them to draw blood, it would be like a scratch that bleeds. Males also tend to fly. Females would make a better choice. To tell the difference is relatively easy. Females have large abdomens, giving them a "fat" look. This is for egg production. Males are very slender. Happy hunting.


  1. Hi Shelly! I'm stopping over from Rural Rambles Blog. This like a great place to stop! I love your Praying Mantis post and have learned something today. The Mantis you will see if you look at my blog was a male! I called it a her! If you check my blog here http://sunnysideup-eve.blogspot.com/2009/09/what-do-you-feed-praying-mantis.html you might learn something you didn't know...but then again...maybe you do!!
    Thanks for your great learning blog!

  2. Hiya Eve, thanks for stopping by and for your kind comments. I checked out your blog and I must say you were right, I did learn something, that was a first. Truly was the sweetest thing I've seen in awhile. You know I have to try it! I can't wait to tell my friend in Texas who raises praying mantids. I will send him the link to your site, he won't believe his eyes...LOL