Mantis Religiosa is the scientific name for this very special praying mantis. The family name is mantidae, and it has been shortened to mantid. This mantid is the European Praying Mantis, and it is special because this is the species of mantid that gave the name praying mantis to the entire order. This wonderful insect is found in the Mediterranean and warmer areas of Europe. Of note: Mantid is a Greek word that means profit. So hence the religious portion is completely matched up between praying mantis, which translates into praying profit. All of this because these remarkable insects hold their forelegs as though they may be praying. The pun is that they are not so much praying as they are preying. These are veracious predators that have not a care in the world when it comes to who they might eat. They do not discern between beneficial or pest when they choose their meal.
Mantids as Biological Weapons
This specific mantid was found at the Benicia State Recreation Area in Northern California. This is mentioned so that entomologists may use this data to track the habitats of this mantid. They are often released by government and civil organizations in the Northern California area as a biological weapon against invasive pests. Since California is a state that is rich in agriculture production, it is important that invasive species of insects be kept to a minimum. Examples of invasive species would be the Med Fly otherwise known as the Mediterranean Fruit Fly. The problem with the Mediterranean Fruit Fly is that they lay their eggs under the rind or skin of fruit crops. This process makes the fruit unsellable when the eggs hatch. Large blisters and wounds appear on the crop, and the crop is lost. Fruitflies are also constant breeders and can have as many as 30 broods per year.
While this is not typically a job for the European Praying Mantis, it is an example of what an invasive species of insect can do to the fragile balance of farming. Another example of an invasive pest is the Asian Longhorn Beetle Link. This is a pest that may be more suitable for the praying mantis to hunt down and destroy. There are currently about 26 invasive insects that are threatening California. This does not include the aquatic animals and creatures that have invaded the tidal waters and marshes around California.
Field Markings, European Praying Mantis
To identify this mantid from other species, look at the inside of the forelegs. There should be a white dot with a black ring around it. This is a the field mark that helps to tell these beautiful insects apart from other members of the mantis family. The field mark is very visible in many of the pictures that accompany this article.
Mantid Life Cycle
The mantid in general has a seasonal life cycle. They begin as eggs and hatch into miniature forms of the adult. There may be over a hundred eggs laid in a single egg casing. The female mantid lays eggs in an egg casing that hardens and insulates the fertilized eggs over the winter. In late spring, they hatch. If rearing them at home, they must be separated as they will immediately begin to cannibalize each other. They spend the summer preying upon smaller insects as they grow. In the late summer, they have reached maturity and will mate. The female is known to consumer her mate, though this is not always the case. If you have ever wondered why the female Mantid eats her mate, then the answer is to provide a larger batch of fertilized eggs. The male Mantid is programed to release all of his sperm if his head is removed during mating. If the female does not chew off his head, then he will only release half of his sperm. This results in a smaller batch of eggs and a higher risk that non of the baby Mantids will survive. Nature has an odd way of tipping the scales, we call that Natural Selection. As the weather turns colder the adult mantis dyes. Her legacy is left to weather the winter on limbs and structures such as fences and homes.
There are one of my favorite insects. It is like a little joy that overcomes me when one is found. Their head has an incredible range of movements. They can appear to be quite human in many of their gestures. They will often look over their shoulder or cock their head to the side to study you. Make no mistake about these insects, they watch us as much as we watch them. I have never felt any danger when handling them. Be wary of their front legs because they can exact a horrible pinch if they get a vice grip hold on one of your fingers. In all of the pictures, notice that my hands are flat. You can also notice the sharp spines on the inside of their front legs. These spines are designed to hold prey. Insects have an exoskeleton which is a hard bony structure that covers their softer insides. These spines and the jaws of the mantid are designed to pierce these hard exoskeletons. In all the years handling these amazing creatures, not once has one ever shown any hostility to me. Like most things if you handle them with respect they reward you with the privilege of examining them closer.