Praying Mantis - Tenodera aridifolia sinensis
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Family Mantidae. Commonly known as the Chinese mantis, the female sometimes eats the male after mating. Live adult mantids photographed in the wild at northern Illinois, USA.
Praying Mantis Attacks Grasshopper
This huge female Chinese Mantis is eating a grasshopper.
I watched as this praying mantis snatched a grasshopper in midair. The mantis strike has been captured in high-speed photography and measured at 30 to 50 one-thousandths of a second -- faster than the eye can see. Mantids rely on their exquisite camouflage while hunting. They usually remain in ambush completely motionless, letting prey blunder into range, or they do a slow stalk much like a cat.

True to type, this mantis first attacked the neck of the grasshopper, a soft spot in the armor. Thus, the struggle quickly ends and the hunter can dine in peace. The strong prominent mouthparts of this predator have evolved into a very efficient ripping and tearing mechanism.  My camera clock shows this attack and feast took somewhat less that 6 minutes. She was not a fastidious diner - various parts were dropped and only the soft abdominal segments were consumed. I don't think these killing machines have any trouble securing a meal any time they want.

Chinese Mantis
This female is fully 4 1/2 inches long. Mantis is from Greek, meaning prophet or seer. 
Chinese Mantids have triangular heads with large compound eyes and three simple eyes (ocelli) in a triangular arrangement between the antennae. Considerable research has been done on the mantis' eyesight. It has been shown that this insect is capable of stereoscopic vision, allowing it to accurately gauge distances as do most mammalian predators; it uses the extreme mobility of its head (a mantis can turn its head fully 180 degrees, and their vision covers 300 degrees) to use parallax (the apparent movement of an object against a more distant background) as a reinforcement to the binocular triangulation.

The compound eyes themselves are a work of art - their faceted nature always presents the appearance of a black pupil pointed directly at you. It is such a convincing optical illusion that it was only recently that I even took note of it and made myself think about the fact that mantids do not have eyeballs or pupils. In addition to this curious feature, the entire surface of the eyes change color according to the amount of ambient light - they are light green or tan in sunlight, and chocolate brown at twilight or in low light conditions. Many other arthropods also exhibit illusory pupils in their compond eyes.


Late-season female praying mantis out hunting on November 3rd, (northern Illinois) is 110 millimeters long - about 4 1/4"
Praying Mantis Facts
  • The Chinese mantis was deliberately imported as a biological control agent in agriculture
  • Mantids are able to rotate their heads nearly 180 degrees - the only insect able to do so
  • The female mantis does not always eat the male after mating - that depends on how well-fed she is already
  • Mantids are members of the Order Dictyoptera, which also includes cockroaches
  • Mantids are first recognized in the Oligocene fossil record, about 35 million years ago
  • Praying mantis eggs are laid on plants, in a rapidly-hardening frothy mass called an ootheca

Mantids don't fool around - they rip, shred, tear and eat.
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