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The Female Praying Mantis: Sexual Predator or Misunderstood

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Biology 103
2002 First Paper
On Serendip

The Female Praying Mantis: Sexual Predator or Misunderstood

Michele Doughty

"Placing them in the same jar, the male, in alarm, endeavoured to escape. In a few minutes the female succeeded in grasping him. She first bit off his front tarsus, and consumed the tibia and femur. Next she gnawed out his left seems to be only by accident that a male ever escapes alive from the embraces of his partner" Leland Ossian Howard, Science, 1886. (7)

The praying mantis has historically been a popular subject of mythology and folklore. In France, people believed a praying mantis would point a lost child home. In Arabic and Turkish cultures, a mantis was thought to point toward Mecca. In Africa, the mantis was thought to brink good luck to whomever it landed on and even restore life to the dead. In the U.S. they were thought to blind men and kill horses. Europeans believed they were highly worshipful to god since they always seemed to be praying. In China, nothing cured bedwetting better than roasted mantis eggs. (7) The praying mantis is known for its unique look and very interesting aspects of behavior. Their bodies consist of three distinct regions: a moveable triangular head, abdomen and thorax. It is the only insect capable of moving its head from side to side like humans. Compound eyes help give them good eyesight, but it must move its head to center its vision optimally, also much like a human. Females usually have a heavier abdomen than males. Legs and wings are attached to the thorax and elongated to create a distinctive "neck". Its front legs are modified as graspers with strong spikes used for grabbing and holding prey. (2) To say the least, the mantis is a highly evolved curiosity with raptorial limbs that can regenerate when young, wings for flight, ears for hunting and evading predators, and mysterious behavior. With such highly evolved bodies for capturing and seizing prey, why are females infamous for their sexual cannibalism of males?

The mantis has an enormous appetite, eating up to sixteen crickets a day, but is not limited to just insects. They are carnivorous and cannibalistic, and only eat live prey in both nymph and adult stages. Although customarily they eat cockroach-type insects, they prefer soft-bodied insects like flies. They have been documented eating 21 species of insects, soft-shelled turtles, mice, frogs, birds, and newts. (2) Although the European mantis was introduced to the United States to eat insects that destroy farm crops, other species are known informally as "soothsayers," "devil's horses," "mule killers," and "camel crickets" since their saliva was mistakenly thought to poison farm livestock.

Because of the interesting sexual cannibalism of the species, there have been many studies on the praying mantids reproductive processes. Breeding season is during the late summer season in temperate climates. (5) The female secretes a pheromone to attract and show that she is receptive to the mate. The male then approaches her with caution. The most common courtship is when the male mantis approaches the female frontally, slowing its speed down as it nears. This has also been described as a beautiful ritual dance in which the female's final pose motions that she is ready. The second most common courtship is when the male approaches the female from behind, speeding up as it nears. He then jumps on her back, they mate, and he flies away quickly. It is most seldom that courtship occurs with the male remaining passive until approached by the female.

The actual mating response process has been described as an initial visual fixation on the female, followed by fluctuation of the antennae and a slow and deliberate approach. Abdominal flex displays with a flying leap on the back of the female are executed in order to mount her. The female lashes her antennae and there is rhythmic S-bending of the abdomen. During one experiment, mantids were observed in copulation for an average of six hours. The male flew away after mating. (6)

Although the praying mantis is known for its cannibalistic mating process in actuality it only occurs 5-31% of the time. Especially in laboratory conditions of bright lights and confinement, the female is more likely to eat the male as means of survival. "In nature, mating usually takes place under cover, so rather than leaning over the tank studying their every move, we left them alone and videotaped what happened. We were amazed at what we saw. Out of thirty matings, we didn't record one instance of cannibalism, and instead we saw an elaborate courtship display, with both sexes performing a ritual dance, stroking each other with their antennae before finally mating. It really was a lovely display". (7) There is one species, however, the Mantis religiosa, in which it is necessary that the head be removed for the mating to take effect properly. (5) Sexual cannibalism occurs most often if the female is hungry. But eating the head does causes the body to ejaculate faster. (3)

There are over 2000 species of praying mantids that display diverse shapes and sizes. They are camouflaged to blend into their environments from tropical flowers to fallen leaves. "And although they work around the same general lines- 'wait, seize, devour', behavior patterns between different species are as diverse as their body shape." (7) Some engage in sexual cannibalism more often than others. Those that do, it seems, are responsible for giving those that don't a bad reputation.

In our society that loves gory tales of sex and violence, it seems that we have focussed more on the fatal attraction aspect of the species than trying to figure out exactly why they do it. After all, being eaten also benefits the male since he serves as a kind of vitamin for his offspring so that they are strong enough to survive. And he gets to pass on his genes. The fact of the matter is that sexual cannibalism isn't that uncommon in nature. Especially in the insect world, male redback and orbweb spiders fall prey to their lovers, not to mention the infamous black widow. Have scientists focussed too much on the tales and myths of the deadly seductress? Have we misunderstood the praying mantis?



1)Praying Mantis

2)Praying Mantid Information

3)Sexual and Mate Selection

4)The Wondrous Praying Mantis!

5)The Praying Mantis

6) The Praying Mantis

7) You Give Love a Bad Name



Continuing conversation
(to contribute your own observations/thoughts, post a comment below)

06/29/2005, from a Reader on the Web

your cite is very helpful. i have a pet praying mantis, still a baby and am feeding him wingless fruit flies. he loves them. got them from a local pet store. all the info was very interesting and very helpful. thanks!!

09/07/2005, from a Reader on the Web

At the end of June my husband and I put up a screened gazebo on our patio. Within the first week, a praying mantis took up residence inside the gazebo. It has been there ever since (now being the first week of September). I never have figured out if ours is a male or female. The other day my husband mowed the grass and soon afterward there were two additional praying mantises on the outside of the screen. Yesterday I noticed one was inside, and today I discovered what I assume to be the first one with one of the newcomers in the mating position. Needless to say, I went to the internet to find out more about this subject. They have been together for several hours so it was good to know that this is normal behavior. Will have to wait to see what happens next. It would be nice to have the eggs laid inside our gazebo so we can try to watch what happens in the future.

09/15/2005, from a Reader on the Web

We have been keeping mantids throughout the summer but the first one gave in to death although it lived for months in our environment. Tonight (9/15) we took in one we believe to be a female; very plump, and hope that she lays her eggs on our branches. she is about 4" in length and has a face shapped in a V with very dark eyes. Outside on the window are two smaller, 3", very light green ones that are asking for crickets. Can they smell them???? I doubt it but it's been a very busy year for mantids at our house this summer. We hope for an egg case and to keep them till next year. Any comments or suggestions are appreciated. It's our first year with these wonderful creatures. We have noticed a difference in shape of faces and eyes between our first one and this one. The first one's face was very wide and this one is very "V".

10/07/2005, from a Reader on the Web

I was searching for praying mantis and came upon your website. I am a teacher and this week a praying mantis showed up on our windowsill (we are on the third floor). The students were at first scared, but I put it on my plant and it became the class pet. However, we have weekend classes in out building, including my classroom, used by a group who pays rent, and the kids are awful. I had to take "Chuck" outside and put him in the bushes to save him from the weekend kids who may harm him (we're assuming its a he). The mantis climbed all over the place, thrilling the kids. This afternoon it jumped on my back from the bulletin board! I hope "Chuck" is going to be OK. Maybe he'll come back! Love your website!

10/30/2005, from a Reader on the Web

In our garden we came upon a male mantis mating with a female. She then turned her head around and bit the head of the male and then ripped his head off. What was most interesting to me after that was that his body still seemed very alive. He continued to wrap his genitals around hers and mate. Even when she moved and they were apart for a second or two, the headless male continued to wrap his body around hers and the genitalia met again.

01/02/2006, from a Reader on the Web

We just got back from a Christmas vacation and found a gazillion itty bitty creatures on the chair arms & sides, the walls and ceilings. We think the eggs were on our live Norfolk Pine Christmas tree. It's January in Charlottesville, VA and 46 degrees - not ideal timing for little praying mantises. We put some outside anyway against an exterior wall with a pile of leaves that might provide protection and food. Of course, we are still finding some inside. Any suggestions of what we can most humanely do with them? Diego


Additional comments made prior to 2007
We have been purchasing praying mantis eggs for 5 years now. Last fall 2005, we brought a female into our sun room in our house. She lived until Thanksgiving! We fed her crickets on a daily basis. While she lived in our home, we brought in a male and we assumed they mated because she laid four eggs and we found what was left of his wings. We removed the eggs from the branches and put them in the refrigerator until May. We put them outside and they have not hatched yet. Normally, we have babies by now. The weather has been prime for 3-4 weeks now for hatching. Do female praying mantis lay eggs that are not fertile? Do they lay eggs even if they haven't mated? ... Pam Garin, 17 June 2006



Hello i have seen like 5 praying mantis' in my yard and they are big and little. Is it just a myth that they are poisonous and that they can sting you? Are they harmless? I am so scared of them because i dont know but they love to look at me tell me please if they are ok or not!!!! ... Angel, 19 September 2006


Regina's picture

male praying mantis still moving hours after beheading

How long can a male mantis live after it's head has been removed by the female? Last night, I witnessed the mating ritual. The male's head had been removed. In the morning, the female was gone but the male was still there and he was still moving about. Interesting nervous system. Is there an evolutionary reason for this? Can it still deposit sperm long after it has been beheaded?

i i who knownothing's picture

Praying Mantis

Listened to all that and it just reinforces that their is no difference between the insect species or the human species to this day and the sooner males wake up to this fact the better,it is a jungle out their and has been for millions of years..If you want to survive keep your head,it is all a trap and we should have learned by now ,females are not that smart at all it,s just that blokes are so easy and they prey on that..

Jason 's picture

egg laying mantis

Found a 6 inch female mantis that caught & ate a large Kayteedid. Fearing it dying from the increasingly cold Cincinnati nights I built a huge enclosure and would bring her in at night and let her feed in the sun during the day. after a few hours a day or two ago it had began making an egg sack. Not wanting to disturb the process I checked in later the next morning. She was gone. The next night I found her under the sack on the ground. Is she guarding her sack or should I bring her in from the cold & place her back in the cricket stocked enclosure?

Serendip Visitor's picture

preying mantises

I'd like to find out why I've been seeing more mantises in the grass I cut grass alot and been seeing more of them, I didn't see one all summer?

Mike's picture

Mantis won't leave!

I knew nothing about these creatures until I came upon your website. I almost killed a praying mantis that was on our screen door. He/she was there for hours and I kept trying to scare it away. I turned the water hose on it and knocked it down and it jumped on a storage cabinet outside our home. He/she has been in the same place now for 4 days. It is still alive. After reading your site I now know that these are beautiful insects and I feel horrible for trying to harm it.

My question is how long will it continue to stay there? Doesn't it need to eat? Is it sick? I can't think of any reason for it to remain there because it is not protected nor camafloged in any way. It sits right out in the open in full view of any preditor.

I will let it remain as long as it wants but I'm worried about why it is still there in a spot with no vegitation nor protection.

Thank you for educating me on these beautiful creatures.

gail Leddy's picture

praying mantis in same spot

Is she about to lay eggs?

Cierra Brown's picture


The Female die in the winter

Antonio-abdomenplano's picture

The mantis are one of the

The mantis are one of the most misunderstood insects, they can be carnivorous, but they play their role in the ecosytem, and they are graceful insects, at least for me.

Jeff's picture

praying mantis

correction ,, should read "they are carnivorous" ...

Hibernia86's picture

Let's not be too apologetic

The author points out that the male preying mantis benefits from being eaten by keeping the female alive long enough to have kids and pass on the male preying mantis's genes. This is true, but are we willing to make similar arguments in other situations? A person could say that the French women of the year 900 benefited from being raped by invading Viking men because it provided the women with stronger children than they would have had from marrying the local men who were killed (The children of these Viking rapists, called the Normans, were very successful, eventually gaining control of England under the leadership of William the Conquerer). Again, all of this is true, but all the same, I'm sure the women would prefer not to be raped and the male preying mantises would prefer not to be eaten.

nature lover's picture

will a female protect her egg

will a female protect her egg sac if she is left in with it?

nature lover's picture

will a female damage the egg

will a female damage the egg sac once laid if she is left in with it

Rebecca81's picture

Female Praying Mantis

Thank you for this great post. I got a praying mantis. I think the female eats male praying mantis because she is hungry and she needs all the food she can get to lay eggs. I was surprised that praying mantis can kill and eats frog which is ten time larger than him.

Vicki Mellon's picture

praying mantis takeover

I am a science teacher and one day I found a mantis casing. I didn't know what it was at the time. I'm always bringing interesting things to my class for my students to observe. One morning I came into my classroom and found, what seemed like 100's, of baby mantis' crawling all over my desk and lab tables. My students had a great time collecting them and releasing them outside. We all learned something new that day.

andirana mack's picture

cool im in 5th grade at otis

cool im in 5th grade at otis a mason

African Grey Biting's picture

The Praying Mantis

These are some of the most interesting creatures in the world. I have caught my praying mantis eying by African Grey on more than one occasion even though the parrot is 20 times as big. Ambitions little guy!

Canary Owner's picture

Bird Eaters!

I live in Salt Lake City, UT. On this particular September day, I put my canary's cage outside. I found a P.Mantis on his cage. He hung out there for most of the day. A couple times I caught it spreading it's wings and Hissing! Yes hissing. He was intent on my canary. When i shooed him off and took my canary in the house later, the P.Mantis watched me and later on tried to come in my house. He was intent on that bird! Upon research, i found that they will eat birds! oi!

Serendip Visitor's picture

praying mantis

can u show me a baby mantis pic?

HP Bryce's picture

I think it is amazing that

I think it is amazing that they can be found just about anywhere on earth. I have lived in several countries over the last 20+ years and everywhere I have lived I have seen them.

Shippo's picture

Pray mantis lays 2 egg sacs

My pray mantis laid a egg sac in the fall, but for some reason in december she has laid another one. Is this common or can even happen?!?!?

Anonymous's picture

there is a prayer mantis sitting on my mailbox

the same prayer mantis has been sitting on my mailbox for two days now and hasn't move, i believe it's there for a reason. i read that when you see one it's there to bring you some peace if you have had so much problems in your life and as to good luck i believe that is true also because that same day me and hubby saw it sitting ontop of our mailbox we receved a check we was not expecting.oh i had one come in my house also but that was like a couple of years ago,i was worried about my hubby cause he got deployed to iraq, i told my mom and she said it was good luck and also was trying to tell me that my hubby was going to be ok,i felt such at peace that if you find one or see one dont worry it wont harm you just let it be i believe they are there to give us peace!!!

Anonymous's picture

Nice blog. The only thing

Nice blog. The only thing that I would disagree with is that it benefits the male. It probably doesn't. What's the purpose of the female mating only when she's hungry? Do they purposefully starve themselves just before mating? Why? Does is serve some purpose to starve themselves so they are hungry enough to eat their mates? I see no real purpose in this. Is it population control? Do mantis need population control?

More on that it doesn't benefit the male. The male probably weighs the cost (or the cost is weighed already and the male is driven by his need to get his rocks off). I'm pretty sure that many creatures most likely don't want to get their heads removed.

Here's what I'm guessing happened during the evolutionary cycle of the praying mantis. During the times when the mantis were starving, the need for food and mating was very high. Since they are technically both bugs, they are ok with eating each other since they probably taste good to each other.
Those times of starvation in Earth past has driven the female to bite off her lover's head. Since insect's bodies can function for a time after the head's removed, the mating continues. So the female gets everything.

That's like a female marrying an ugly old but rich guy and then decapitating him upon arrival while being able to marry his younger more handsome counterpart and getting the house. Maybe not that mean but I'm just throwing metaphors around.

Anyway, male praying mantis have never evolved a way to "know" about this and counter it. Because typically the male praying mantis' head gets removed, that eliminates any "learning" that might have affected its genealogy. Since the body doesn't "learn" but only functions, the sperm of the body only registers the last ritual as success.
The female canabalistic gene passes on to female genes because she was "learning" at the time when she massacred the praying mantis noggin after him showing her a good time.

So, I'm pretty sure that there aren't many things that enjoy their skulls being torn to pieces. But P.Mantis mate in private so that reduces the chance other mantis can see what the female does. Even if some do see, they probably aren't capable of "learning" without physically surviving the mishap.

You mention other species of them flying away after mating. Well those species might have just had enough male escapee encounters to cause it to evolve in their genes.

What a sexual appetite these insects have huh?

Serendip Visitor's picture

i disagree with your comment.

i disagree with your comment. the way your making it sound is that the female will starve herself so she can eat the male. if you actually read the original post you would know that its rare for the female to eat the male and it only happens when she is starving or they get distracted in unusual situations. she doesnt strive to eat the head off her mate nor does she starve herself. the only reason a mantis would starve themselfs a little is if they were about to molt and wanted an easier time getting out of their old husk.

Unforgettable Name's picture

I just found one!

That's so weird. I just stumbled here looking for info on the mantis I just found. Thanks! I love the world wide web.

Aria Ariana's picture


I have too much too say. ! Thanx. Please add me to your list and updates if available. Also thank Home Depot for supplying The "ladies in Red". Expensive but effective, someday I would like to be a bug rancher and terminate Terminex systems of poisoning people and bugs.In the 70's we never had roaches in Arizona. No bug sprayers either. Just mantises eating the parasites. Someday I hope to farm a 10 foot mantis and make Rippley look for a new record.

Anonymous's picture

Female mantis eating the

Female mantis eating the male during mating is a sort of a misconception. The only reason the female would eat the male during mating is because the female is hungry. If the female is properly feed then the female will not eat the male at all. It has already recently proven. I read all these scientist observation on mantis mating acts but I have yet to read about how a scientist first feeds the female mantis and then introduce a male for mating.

Sandra Obenchain's picture

A praying mantis kept jumping on my back at the end of summer

The mantis jumped on my shoulder several times over the course of a couple of days at the end of summer. So my son and I set up an old fish tank with a couple of plants, sponge for water and added a few crickets and hand fed a few wax worms which (s)he loved, these were left over from our bearded dragon. It ended up being a female as a few weeks later there was a foamy 'egg sac'. We didn't know if they were fertilized and she preceded to lay two more sac's near/over the first over the next month. It seems the first egg sac is hatching. I just placed a few small ants in the tank tonight since the baby mantis are fluttering around. Then I came to this web site to see what the babies eat. So now I will be adding fruit flies to the tank. This is very exciting for me. I used to be just into fur animals: cats; dogs and horses. Now we have fresh water fish, setting up a salt water tank, a bearded dragon (beardy is turning three), an ant farm, had one successful cricket hatching and now the praying mantis. The kids are as thrilled as me, my husband seems interested or tolerates our interests. He was the one that started the process with his co-worker ordering our son monarch butterfly larvea last year and lady bug eggs this year. What an exciting time. I never would have guessed our house hold would become so much fun. All the neighberhood kids are always excited to see what new animals have adopted us.

Kathy's picture


I've had my female in the mantis habitat for about a month. One week ago, the neighbor kids brought me another mantis that they had found in their bushes. As luck would have it, it was a male. In less than 30 minutes they were mating or at least trying to. Last Friday (Oct 24th)it seemed they finally were mating... full time for a whole day. The female didn't kill him afterwards like I thought she might. Then again, she's been very well fed while I've had her in the habitat. The male died though 3 days later. Today, Oct. 29th, the female made her egg sac. She's not looking so well at the moment though. I'm hoping she is just tired from all the hard work today and will have energy to eat something later. She hasn't eaten since the weekend. I read that it was common to not eat while preparing to lay the egg sac. I know she's just a bug, but I'm really sad that she may not be around much longer. We, along with our 3 year old grandson have really enjoyed watching and learning about her.

Tara's picture

Same question - eggs fertilized?

I am in Colorado, but have pretty much the same situation - I brought home a mantis from a field trip several months ago, and last week she laid an egg case. I have no idea if there are fertile eggs in the case - pulled it out of her habitat just in case! Two months seems like a long time for them to be fertile though.

Does anyone know the gestation period of a European mantis? I have seen answers on the web from 24 days to "several months".

Thanks in advance for any info!

Adam's picture

Egg sac fertilized?

I found a female mantis about two months ago. I live in British Columbia, Canada. From what I have read I think there is only a couple types of mantis up here. Anyway after two months in the house she finally layed an egg sac. Is there a chance that it is fertilized? Do you know how long they from mating to laying eggs takes? Thank you. Adam

Anonymous's picture

Yes it may be fertilized, One

Yes it may be fertilized,

One year I found two female Praying Mantis' one laid a

fertile egg sac the other one didn't.

So if you found it in the fall it's a 75% chance it is

fertile, if you found it in the summer 50%.

But the infertile egg can still hatch.

Linda's picture

I contained a female preying

I contained a female preying mantis because it looked like she was pregnant. Finally last night or early this morning she was still laying her casing. I've had her for about a week before she layed this casing and she never ate the grasshoppers I put in there. I finally tried force feeding her by grabbing a grasshopper by the leg and pushing it on her. She wasn't too happy and started to eat him, but I'm not sure if it's normal for them to go through a period of not eating before they lay their eggs. Also is it safe to remove the eggs and place them into another container? I heard the female will eat them. Can I use a pair of long tweezers carefully to do it? And last, how long does it take for the baby mantis to hatch?
Thanks for your help

Andrew's picture

The egg hatces about 25 to 45

The egg hatces about 25 to 45 Days

nature lover's picture

i need this same answer

i need this same answer please

celine's picture

not so cute

I was looking on the web to help me understand what i just witnessed in my greenhouse a few weeks ago...
there were three praying mantises together, two brownish ones and one green one in the middle. One of the brown ones had the green one in an armlock and was proceeding to eat through it's front legs (the fleshy part especially) while it had them trapped above it's head, while it was being copulated with by the other brown one. another witness was pretty horrified at watching this happen, and the green mantis pretty obviously frantically moving it's back legs and it's thorax pumping, well, we felt quite sorry for it, and she decapitated it with some clippers. at this turn of event, the one mating it kept on at it, while, the one eating through it's legs became uninterested and left.
s&m at its worst, i think, or hope.

Anonymous's picture



Anonymous's picture

Female Praying Mantis

If the stomach of the mantis has a brown line running through the middle of it, or it looks like that the belly has been stretched out and the skin has unfolded, its more then likely pregnant.