There are roughly 1,800 species of Praying mantis, some of which are only one inch long. With their slender green bodies and small triangular heads, it would be easy to underestimate these deadly carnivores.
But the praying mantis is one of the deadliest insects in the animal kingdom and can capture prey three times its size. Explore the skills of the praying mantis as we explore what makes them such deadly killers and discover whether we should be scared if one approaches us.
How Does a Praying Mantis Kill Its Prey?
There are two main types of predators: pursuit predators actively chase their prey, while ambush predators wait in hiding for their prey to come to them. Praying Mantises are so-called for their famous hunting stance; using their rear four legs for balance, the praying mantis folds the front two arms (as if in prayer) while waiting for prey to enter their territory. And this sit-and-wait tactic categorizes them as ambush predators.
A praying mantis's front two legs are known as the raptorial limbs; they are lined with spines that allow the mantis to snare their prey within one-tenth of a second. Generally, the fearsome insects puncture their victim's head and start eating the brain. They will often consume prey that is still alive in a gruesome process that can take several hours to complete.
What Makes the Praying Mantis So Deadly?
The reason why praying mantises are so deadly is that they have perfectly evolved for effective prey capture. To begin, they have five eyes adapted to sensing even minor changes in light and motion. In contrast to many other insects, a praying mantis's eyes face forward; these insects don't need peripheral vision because they can rotate their heads 180 degrees. Impressively, they are the only insects in the world to possess this ability. They're also the only insects who are proven to have 3D vision.
Additionally, the praying mantis can adjust its attack to suit the size and speed of its prey, waiting patiently for the perfect moment to strike.
These insects are so bloodthirsty that they will even resort to cannibalism to secure their next meal. Females are much larger than males, which allows them to engage in sexual cannibalism during the mating process. Consuming the male nourishes the female, enabling her to lay twice as many eggs.
Not only is the praying mantis a deadly hunter, but it also possesses several characteristics that help keep it safe from predators. Its slender body casts barely any shadow, and its green (or brown) body blends perfectly with the surrounding foliage. As they walk, they sway back and forth to match the movements of this foliage, making them even harder to spot. This swaying motion also aids their sense of sight by increasing depth perception allowing them to estimate the distance of their prey.
What Is the Biggest Animal a Praying Mantis Can Take On?
The diet of a praying mantis primarily consists of insects like flies, grasshoppers, crickets, and moths, but its fatal grip enables the praying mantis to take on larger prey than you might expect. They can snare birds, fish, and frogs and take on other fearsome predators, such as snakes.
The largest prey these insects can take on is around three times their size. And there are two main reasons they can take down prey of this size. The first is that their impressive reflexes are so fast that they can be challenging to see with the naked eye; the second is their spiny legs which make escape almost impossible for the unfortunate victim.
And this brave insect will stand its ground even when faced with an unbeatable opponent. Regardless of the predator's size, a praying mantis will spread its wings and extend its legs to appear as large as possible. And, if all else fails, they'll raise their fists to prepare for a final battle.
So, what about your pets? A praying mantis might stand its ground against your cat, dog, rabbit, etc., but they lack the strength to take down animals of this size. Remember, the average mantis is only 2-3 inches long, meaning most small mammals are too big to overcome. Still, praying mantis are known to fish and can snare guppies and other small fish from open tanks.
Are Praying Mantises Dangerous to Humans?
There's no doubt that the praying mantis is a fearsome carnivore, but they do not present a danger to humans.
In terms of size, we are far too big to sustain injury from a praying mantis's attack, and their bite is ineffective when used on a human. Unlike these venomous snakes, the praying mantis doesn't inject poison when it bites, and they don't carry any disease - this means a good wash with soapy water will be sufficient to treat a bite.
Additionally, praying mantises are more likely to avoid human contact than to bite you. These intelligent insects understand the danger a predator such as a human can present and opt to flee rather than fight when given the option.
Praying mantis are sometimes referred to as "gardener's friends" and are favored by many humans for their ability to catch and deplete pests. Some people even keep these fascinating little creatures as pets, which can be rewarding if you provide everything they need to stay healthy and happy.