Carolina Mantis (13Sept2022)

In “Mantids (Mantises),” the Missouri Department of Conservation writes:

“Mantids frequent open, highly vegetated areas such as gardens, old fields and pastures, thickets, woodland borders, and other places where an abundance of plant types attract a wide variety of insects. Mantids, like ambush and assassin bugs, crab and jumping spiders, and robber flies, wait motionless for prey insects to draw near, then grab them in a lightning-fast move.”

“Usually when we consider insects that play a role in the food chain, we think of herbivorous insects, which eat plants and pass the nutrients along to insect-hunting birds, amphibians, reptiles, bats, and other vertebrates. But mantids and other insect-hunting insects are generally larger than the insects they hunt and provide a bigger meal for an insect-hunting vertebrate. Many birds, especially, hunt insects during breeding season because of their high protein content.

“As with many other species, the young are particularly vulnerable to predation. Mortality is high among immature mantids, as their bodies become food for a wide variety of predators. Jumping spiders, for example, patrol the same plant stems that young mantids walk around on, and they won’t hesitate to pounce on young mantids small enough to subdue.

“Mantids can hear the high-frequency sounds emitted by bats, and if a mantid is flying, it will alter its flight in response. This is a sign that bats may be a primary predator of night-flying mantids.

“Mantids aren’t the only species where the male is sometimes eaten by the female. In many spiders, the female may eat her much smaller mate. And in a more general way, in many animals, males that share in the rearing of offspring — establishing and defending a territory that supplies sufficient food, constructing nests, protecting or incubating eggs, gathering food, feeding the young, caring for the mother — are spending a significant amount of their lives in order to ensure their reproductive success.

“What’s up with their eyes? There’s usually a dark spot on the eyes of mantids (and several other insects with compound eyes), and that dark spot always seems to be facing you, no matter what angle you view them from. How does this work? It’s caused by the structure of their compound eyes — essentially, a result of tubes, shadows, and mirrors. To understand this, imagine a model: Think of their globe-shaped compound eyes as a cluster of narrow tubes, all pointing outward from a center point, and imagine these tubes are coated with silver on the inside surfaces. Closest to you, the tubes are pointed directly at you, and you can see into the whole long (dark) tunnel, while the tubes increasingly angled away from you appear light-colored, reflecting the light.

“Taxonomically, mantids (order Mantodea) are most closely related to roaches and termites (order Blattodea); they are in the same superorder (Dictyoptera). In the past, mantids, roaches, termites, and stick insects (such as walkingsticks) were all grouped together with the grasshoppers, crickets, and katydids in the order Orthoptera.”

In “The Praying Mantis” (31 Jan 2018), Three Rivers Land Trust writes:

“Mantises are an order (Mantodea) of insects that contains over 2,400 species. Mantises are found in temperate and tropical habitats worldwide. Most of them live in the tropics, and often the mantids we see in the United States are exotics from other countries. They have triangular heads with protruding eyes on flexible necks. Their upright posture in combination with their folded forearms have given the name praying mantis. In the southern United States they are also known as devil’s rearhorses, mulekillers, and camel-crickets. The Carolina mantis (Stagmomantis carolina) is the state insect of South Carolina. Most mantises are colored green or brown in color.

“They typically live only a year. In colder climates they lay eggs in fall and die. Hard capsules protect their eggs and they hatch in the spring, and as many as 1000 individuals can hatch from one capsule. They may lay the eggs on a plant or directly on the ground. In some species, the mother guards the eggs and moves little until they hatch. In the Brunner’s stick mantis from the southern United States no males of the species have ever been found – females breed parthenogenetically, which means development of the embryos occur without fertilization. Sexual cannibalism is also seen among preying mantis, where the female will eat the male after copulation.

“Most mantises are more active in the daytime because they hunt by sight. However, some are more active at night, which provides them protection against birds and other predators that would try to eat them in the daytime. Many mantises are able to avoid predation by bats because they have an auditory thoracic organ that allows them to detect their echolocation calls and avoid them. They typically drop in a circular motion towards the ground when they hear a bat coming close. Most mantises have only one ear, though some (especially those that can’t fly) have none.

“Frogs, lizards, birds, spiders and ants prey upon mantises. Mantises main line of defense against predation is camouflage – they blend in with their surroundings. There are even flower mantises that look like flowers, such as orchids, and convince prey to come nearby to gather pollen or nectar. Mantises can turn their heads 180 degrees and have two large compound eyes and three simple eyes to search their surroundings. They are one of the only insects that have stereovision, or 3-D vision, and can perceive depth like humans.

“They are formidable predators, striking their prey quickly, almost too quick for the naked eye. Their legs have spikes for snaring prey and keeping it in place. They are ambush predators, which sit very still until prey comes nearby then it snatches the prey. Mantis will eat species much larger than themselves, and have even been known to grab hummingbirds from their feeders.

“The earliest mantis fossils are from Siberia. They date from the Cretaceous period and are about 150 million years old, but fossils of mantises are rare to find. One found in amber in Japan in 2008 was believed to be a missing link between ancient and modern day mantises. Previously no mantis fossils from the Cretaceous period had spines on their forelegs, but the one found in 2008 had two spines protruding from its femur.”

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