Most mantids sit quietly and wait for prey to come within reach, but a few species actually chase down their victims. They have excellent vision and extremely quick reflexes and so are able to strike at and successfully capture insect prey in as little as one-twentieth of a second. After feeding, they always spend a great deal of time grooming. They use their forelegs to wipe their eyes and heads, while their legs and antennae are cleaned with the mouth.
Males spend much of their time searching for mates, while females spend most of their time hunting for food and looking for suitable egg-laying sites. In some species adult females use pheromones (FEHR-uh-moans), special chemicals that attract males as mates. Females require a large food supply so their eggs will develop properly. Therefore, they are usually found on or near flowers that attract large numbers of wasps, bees, butterflies, and other insect prey.
Mating may last for up to one hour. During this time the male deposits his sperm packet directly into the body of the female. It is a well-known myth that the female always bites off the head of the male while they are mating. Occasionally, a female may attack and eat a male as he approaches her or during or just after they mate, but this does not happen all the time. Hungry females are more likely to eat their mates.
Ten to two hundred eggs are deposited inside a foamy egg case that soon hardens into a protective, papery coating. The egg cases are attached to branches, walls, and other objects, and the adults die soon afterward. The young mantids hatch the following spring. They will molt, or shed their hard outer coverings, six to nine times before reaching adulthood. In cooler regions only one generation of mantids is produced each season, but in the tropics several generations may overlap every year.
Mantids have captured the imaginations of people for thousands of years. They often appear in illustrations, paintings, and stories. It was once thought that, with their front legs held as if to pray, they could help direct travelers to find their way home. The Chinese staged fighting contests between mantids to bet on which insect would survive the battle. And there is a style of kung fu, a type of martial art, that mimics the movements of mantids.
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