Mantids are fairly large insects, ranging in length from 0.4 to 6.7 inches (1 to 17 centimeters). The green, brown, or gray body color of mantids serves as camouflage to protect them from predators that hunt them for food. Species living in grasslands and meadows are usually pale yellowish brown or light green. Mantids found in leaf litter tend to be dark brown, while those found on or near flowers are yellow, white, pink, or light green.
Mantids are easily recognized by their large and spiny front legs held out in front of their bodies as if they were in prayer. The head is usually distinctive and triangular in shape. A few species have a single horn on the head. They have both well-developed compound eyes, each with hundreds of lenses, and three simple eyes, each with only one lens. The chewing mouth-parts are usually directed downward. The antennae (an-TEH-nee), or sense organs, are long and threadlike. The head is attached to a very thin, flexible neck and is capable of turning nearly all the way around.
The first part of the midsection, or thorax, is usually long and slender and bears the raptorial (rap-TOR-ee-all), or grasping, front legs. The front legs are armed with one or two rows of short, sharp spines used to stab and hold prey, or food animals, securely. The remaining four legs are mostly long and slender. Mantids usually have four wings. The front wings, or forewings, are slightly thickened and have very fine veins. The hind wings are fanlike in shape and are carefully folded beneath the forewings. Most adult mantids have a single "ear" located phylum class subclass • order monotypic order suborder family
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The "ear" of adult mantids acts as an early warning system, allowing them to avoid predators as they fly through the night air. Some mantids are able to hear the ultrasonic echolocation signals used by bats to locate flying insects. Upon hearing a bat, these mantids roll sharply and enter into a spiral dive to avoid being captured. They increase their speed as they drop to the ground or disappear into tangled vegetation.
on their underside, in the middle of the thorax near the abdomen. The ten-segmented abdomen is tipped with a pair of short, segmented projections.
Males are typically smaller than females, sometimes only half their size. They generally have larger simple eyes and longer and thicker antennae than females, and their bodies are lighter and more slender. Their abdomens are completely covered by the folded wings. In females the abdomen is not quite covered by the wings. Mantids' closest relatives are cockroaches and, to a lesser degree, termites. Mantids are sometimes grouped together in another order with these insects.
Mantids are found worldwide in warm and tropical climates. There are twenty-three hundred species worldwide, mostly in the tropical rainforests of South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. Many species are restricted to small areas, but others are found on more than one continent, having been accidentally introduced by humans to continents outside their range. Twenty species live in the United States and Canada.
Mantids are found only on land in rainforests, dry forests, undisturbed and second-growth forests, or forests that grow naturally after cutting or a fire, grasslands, and deserts.
Mantids will eat any small animal they can catch, including other mantids. They usually attack bees, butterflies, grasshoppers, and other insects, as well as spiders. On rare occasion they will attack small mice, lizards, frogs, and birds. They generally choose prey their own size or smaller. Right after hatching, mantid larvae (LAR-vee), or young, spend their first few weeks eating their brothers and sisters, aphids, and other small insects.
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