Stick insects and praying mantids were once treated as orthopterans (with grasshoppers, locusts, crickets and katydids) but are now in their own orders - Phasmatodea and Mantodea respectively. About 80% of Australian mantids belong to the Family Mantidae.
These insects are best known for their remarkable camouflage throughout various stages of their life cycle. Many adults resemble sticks, twigs or leaves, their eggs could be mistaken for seeds, and juveniles often mimic ants.
There are about 118 species of praying mantids in Australia, and many of these are found in the tropics.
Features of praying mantids
- Praying mantids are carnivores with powerful chewing mouthparts.
- They have a triangle-shaped head.
- They are usually solitary animals.
- They are usually green or brown, resembling sticks, twigs or leaves.
- Females are usually larger than males.
What do praying mantids look like?
- 10 mm - 120 mm in length.
- Variable in shape but they are mostly elongate and stick like.
- Head triangular.
- Appears hard.
- Thread-like and usually shorter than body length.
- Large, bulbous and well separated.
- Used for chewing or munching, and held downwards.
- Two pairs if present (often absent in females).
- Forewing leathery, partially see-through or cloudy. Hindwing membranous and clear - larger than forewing and folds like a hand fan.
- Both wings have numerous cross-veins that form many cells.
- Both wings normally extend to the end of the abdomen but maybe shortened.
- At rest the wings are held flat over body, or curved around abdomen, overlapping, with the hindwing hidden.
- Six legs.
- Forelegs are always raptorial, that is, bearing rows of sharp teeth, which are used for clasping prey.
- Two short to moderately long cerci (tails).
- Mantid cerci are never longer than the body and have many segments.
Where are praying mantids found?
- On vegetation such as flowers, tree trunks and tall grasses. There are also some that live on the ground.
What do praying mantids do?
- They are usually found alone and are possibly territorial.
- When disturbed they usually remain still or run out of the line of sight. Other responses include aggressive displays, the release of noxious odours or flashing warning colours.
- They are experts at camouflage. Many have cryptic colouration and structural modifications that help them blend in with their surroundings. They also tend to spend a lot of their time motionless with their forelegs outstretched awaiting prey.
- They have good vision and their head often turns to face moving objects.
- They are weak fliers usually flying in short bursts.
- They are predators, eating mostly insects but have been known to eat small vertebrates.
- They are active during the day and night.
What looks similar?
- Mantis Flies are often confused with praying mantids as they also have raptorial forelegs. Mantid flies can be distinguished by their wings, which unlike mantids, are always present. The wings of mantis flies are clear, held tent-like over their body (at rest), and possess forked veins along the wing margin.
- Stick insects are superficially like mantids. However, their forelegs are never raptorial and their head is often rectangular-like.