Insects and their Allies  

Mantodea: praying mantids

Praying mantids are often easily recognised due to their large size, which can range from 10 to 120 millimetres in body length and their characteristic way of standing with forelegs held together as if they were praying. All praying mantids have the following features:

Tenodera australasiae
Tenodera australasiae (purple-winged mantid)

  • Elongated body
  • Raptorial front legs with one or two rows of spines
  • 2 pairs of wings, both of which are used in flight. Although some species have reduced wings and others are wingless
  • Forewings protectively hardened to cover the membranous hind wings when at rest
  • Very mobile triangular shaped head with distinctive ocelli
  • Short to medium sized filiform antennae

The males of most species are fully winged while many females have either reduced wings or no wings at all. The nymphs of praying mantids look like small adults but lack wings or have developing wing buds.

Some species of Neuroptera in the family Mantispidae, like the one pictured below can be mistaken for praying mantids as they also have raptorial front legs, however further examination reveals they do not have the hardened forewings present in Mantodea.

Mantispidae species
Mantispidae species

Life Cycle
Mating in praying mantids is direct and in some species the female may attack and eat the male during or after mating. The female lays her eggs in a foamy substance that hardens into a distinctive case. Most people would have seen these cases attached to branches, tree trunks, logs and even paling fences and houses. This egg case known as an ootheca may contain up to 400 eggs depending on the species. Some female mantids stay with the eggs until they hatch while others leave as soon as the eggs are laid. The nymphs hatch resembling small adults and develop through a series of stages, moulting several times before reaching maturity. In cooler areas nymphs may take up to one year to reach maturity but in warmer climates there may be up to 2 generations in one year.

Praying mantid

Praying mantids are carnivorous as both adults and nymphs and eat a wide variety of insects, which they seize with their powerful forelegs. They can often be observed slowly stalking their prey or waiting in ambush on vegetation.

Praying mantids are found almost everywhere in Australia. In natural environments they can generally be seen on tree trunks and bushes or among grasses and other plants. Some species also live on the ground. Many species are camouflaged to blend in with particular sites such as flowers, rocks or tree trunks where they hunt and live. In suburban areas they can often be seen on vegetation in gardens and on the sides of buildings. Many are drawn to lights at night, possibly attracted by the smorgasbord of insects that gather around light sources.

Sphodropoda tristis
Sphodropoda tristis