With over 2,400 types of mantis, each stick-like insect has adaptations uniquely suited to its environment. From Asia's jungles to Africa's deserts, they thrive, showcasing the strength of their various adaptations.
To appreciate these creatures deeper, let's explore the top 15 species, their habitats, and the secrets behind their survival. Continue reading, and equip yourself with knowledge of these creatures.
The order Mantodea, or “praying mantids,” is a group of insects unique in the animal kingdom. These ambush predators have staked out their territories worldwide, comprising over 2,400 species of mantises across 460 genera and 33 families.
They live in various ecosystems and have demonstrated remarkable survival capabilities. Although they prefer tropical climates, they have also adapted to temperate zones.
Closely tied to termites and cockroaches, mantises form part of the Dictyoptera superorder. Despite similar elongated forms, they are notably different from stick insects, grasshoppers, and mantisflies, all from another insect lineage.
The term mantis or praying mantis encompasses a diverse species, each with distinct physical characteristics and behaviors. Discover 15 of the most interesting ones in this list.
The Spiny Flower Mantis lives in Africa's eastern and southern regions. Besides their size, reaching only up to 1.5 in at full maturity, these mantises have bright green and yellow bodies and pink or purple wings.
Their vibrant colors help them blend in with their surroundings, helping them avoid predators and sneak up on prey. These insects eat various insects, including flies, moths, and sometimes their mates.
Moreover, they can put on an impressive display when threatened, making themselves appear larger and more intimidating. While they may seem fierce, they do not harm humans and help regulate insect populations.
The Devil's Flower Mantis lives in the dense underbrush of East Africa, particularly in Ethiopia and Tanzania, resembling a flower. It is among the largest mantis species on earth, living amidst plants that match its delicate, petal-like appendages.
Despite its harmless nature towards humans, the mantis performs a threatening display to scare off predators. When it senses danger, it spreads its forewings wide open, raises its body, and displays a burst of spectral colors with red, white, blue, and black.
These praying mantises have become popular amongst exotic pet owners due to their elegance and intimidation.
The Ghost Mantis lives in the arid regions of Africa. Its body resembles dried leaves or tree bark, which allows it to blend seamlessly into its surroundings. This mantid species has a leaf-like body, elongated head, and pronounced thorax.
Moreover, this insect was named "Ghost Mantis" for its eerie and supernatural look.
Regarding its behavior, the Ghost Mantis moves slowly and deliberately, like a leaf swaying in the wind. It generally waits for its prey and strikes when it comes within range.
The Ghost Mantis is less likely to exhibit aggression towards its kind, making it a popular choice for those who keep them as pet mantis.
Despite its intimidating appearance, this species poses no threat to humans. However, their survival is threatened by larger predators, habitat loss, and human activity.
The European Mantis live in the leafy landscapes of Southern Europe. This type of mantis features a green and brown palette, allowing it to blend into the environment.
Its distinctive "praying" stance and camouflage ability enable it to remain hidden among plants and ambush its prey.
The European Mantis is a skilled predator that waits patiently for its prey to come too close while staying hidden.
It then captures its meal with its strong, spiked forelegs. Despite their size, these predators have a substantial appetite, feeding on various insects, especially grasshoppers. Larger subspecies of European Mantises were also known to eat small reptiles and birds.
The Conehead Mantis lives in the Mediterranean's dry landscapes. Its distinctive head shape resembles a cone, earning it the nickname 'unicorn mantis.' It also has shades of green and brown, allowing it to blend seamlessly into meadows, scrublands, and grasslands.
It usually goes hunting during the day, ambushing prey with lightning-fast strikes. While its diet mainly consists of small insects like flies, moths, and butterflies.
The Malaysian Orchid Mantis lives in the rainforests of Malaysia, Indonesia, and Sumatra.
This praying mantis features a coloration of white, pink, and sometimes yellow, which allows it to blend in seamlessly with the surrounding orchids. The female mantis can reach a length of 3 in, and the male grows up to 1 in.
Its ability to mimic the appearance of flowers is a remarkable example of natural evolution1. Besides its beautiful appearance, the mantis is a skilled predator that hides among orchids, waiting for unsuspecting insects.
As nymphs, the mantises display a vibrant red and black coloration to mimic ants and avoid being preyed upon.
When threatened, the mantis will spread its forelegs and wings as a defense mechanism.
The Shield Mantis inhabits the rainforests of Central and South America, particularly Costa Rica, Brazil, and Ecuador. It belongs to the Choeradodis genus and features a broad, flat chest plate or prothorax and large round eyes. Moreover, it can grow up to 4 in.
This green mantis can stay undetected in the foliage while waiting to ambush its prey. Their diet consists of insects, spiders, and small reptiles.
The Dragon Mantis lives in North America, especially in the central and eastern regions of the United States. This medium-sized mantis can grow up to 2 to 3.5 inches in length when fully matured, and its brownish-green color helps it blend in with its surroundings.
Their name comes from its long and slim body and spiky thorax, which resembles that of mythical dragons.
Likewise, this mantis is a skilled predator, staying motionless and silent, waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike. They prey on insects, including flies, moths, beetles, and other mantis species.
Despite its intimidating appearance and predatory habits, this mantis is harmless to humans. It is a popular choice among insect enthusiasts as a pet.
The Dead Leaf Mantis dwells in the Southeast Asian rainforests and has mastered the art of disguise. It has an elongated, flat body with earthy brown hues and intricately patterned wings that resemble a lifeless, decaying leaf.
This type of mantis prefers to stay still, blending into the foliage and waiting for unsuspecting insects to come too close before striking. Its diet comprises small insects such as flies, moths, and other invertebrates.
The Chinese mantis is a remarkable praying mantis native to China and other Asian countries.
Some adult females grow up to 10 centimeters long and have a soft green body with a yellow trim along the edges of their wings. They have a unique "bull's eye" mark on their inner foreleg, a defense mechanism against predators.
Moreover, they can live in grasslands and farms, although they prefer regions with warm summers and cold winters.
The Chinese mantis feeds on beetles, butterflies, and crickets, making them valuable allies for farmers and gardeners in combatting insect pests. They also feed on lizards, amphibians, and even small birds.
Moreover, this type of mantis waits for its prey to come within reach before snatching it up with its front legs.
The native Carolina mantis inhabits many regions of the United States. Notably, it is the state insect of South Carolina, acknowledging its ecological significance in the area.
The mantis has a cloak of light gray to brown hues, which allows it to blend in easily with its surroundings. While this mantis is a smaller mantis species, females are still larger than males, measuring 2.5 to 3.5 inches.
Since it eats other insects, this mantis is beneficial in gardens, as it helps to control pest insects naturally.
The Jeweled Flower Mantis lives in Asia's tropical rainforests, particularly in Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia. Its green and white body has colorful patterns that help it blend into its surroundings.
Females are larger than males, growing up to 2 in, while males reach around 1 in.
The mantis uses its vibrant colors and patterns to disguise itself from predators while waiting for prey, usually small insects like fruit flies and aphids. However, they can also attack small vertebrates like reptiles or amphibians.
Moreover, this mantis can mimic the wind's rustling movement by swaying from side to side.
The Grass Mantis lives in the grasslands stretching from New Jersey to Florida and westward to Texas. They inhabit meadows and fields and have an impressive camouflage ability, which makes them virtually invisible.
Adult females barely reach 1.8 inches, and adult males are even smaller.
The Grass Mantis thrives in daylight and navigates the world with its triangular head and large compound eyes. They are predators that stalk and capture their prey, which includes flies, mosquitoes, and aphids.
When threatened, it stands tall, spreads its forelegs wide, and transforms into a larger, fearsome version of itself. However, it's only a bluff and a harmless dance intended to scare away potential threats.
During mating, the Grass Mantis produces an ootheca, a frothy casing that serves as a cradle of life for the next generation of Grass Mantises.
The Grizzled Mantis lives across the southeastern United States and Central America's vibrant landscapes. It has a patchwork of gray and brown shades, which helps it to blend into the tree bark and lichen. Moreover, adult females barely measure 2.5 inches, while males are smaller.
Like other mantis species, it uses a 'sit-and-wait' approach to hunt, remaining frozen until an unsuspecting fly, moth, or arthropod comes too close. It does not use flashy disguises and relies solely on its exceptional ability to blend into the background.
The Obscure Ground Mantis inhabits the deserts of North Africa and the Middle East. Moreover, our final type of mantis has a light brown to beige color that matches the sandy landscapes it inhabits. It also has a flat body, making it difficult to spot against the desert floor.
It spends most of its time hidden in the sand, which protects it from predators. Then, it moves around using slow and steady rocking, resembling a leaf blowing in the wind, which enhances its camouflage.
The desert floor is also a suitable spot to launch surprise attacks on its prey: insects such as flies, moths, and grasshoppers.
O'Hanlon, J. C., Holwell, G. I., & Herberstein, M. E. (2014). Pollinator deception in the orchid mantis. The American Naturalist, 183(1), 126-132.