Praying mantises (Insecta, Mantodea) are a charismatic Order of insects that are broadly distributed around the world, excluding Antartica and the northern-most regions of the Palearctic and Nearctic ecozones. Out of the 2,494 species presently described (Svenson & Wieland, 2018), only a few species can be found above 50° latitude in the northern hemisphere (e.g., Mantis religiosa (Linne, 1758), Empusa pennicornis Pallas, 1773) (Wieland, 2013).
The morphological diversity of the praying mantises is remarkable, with some mantis species resembling quartz rock (e.g., Ligariella Giglio-Tos, 1915), vines (e.g., Toxodera Serville, 1837), lichen (e.g., Oxyelaea Giglio-Tos, 1917) or moss (e.g., Calofulcinia Giglio-Tos, 1915), and even ants (e.g., Nesoxypilus Beier, 1965) or tiger beetles (e.g., Tricondylomimus Chopard, 1930). This morphological camouflage allows the mantises to ambush potential prey items as well as avoid becoming prey themselves! Praying mantises are voracious predators, employing ambush, cursorial, and generalist hunting strategies (Svenson & Whiting, 2004). To hunt, mantises use their raptorial forelegs, which are typically armed with spines, but sometimes striated tubercles or spine remnants (for a discussion on mantodean forelegs, see Wieland, 2013; Brannoch et al., 2017).
The monophyly of Mantodea has been strongly supported across many phylogenetic reconstructions, with some notable autapomorphic characters being the raptorial forelegs, forefemoral brush, and the morphology of the proventriculus (Svenson & Whiting, 2009). Like their Dictyopteran sistren, praying mantises deposit eggs in packages called oothecae, which are surrounded by a protective, foamy covering.
Illustration credit: Rebecca Konte
Plate from Manual of Praying Mantis Morphology, Nomenclature, Practices (Insecta, Mantodea)
Brannoch, S. K., Wieland, F., Rivera, J., Klass, K. D., Béthoux, O., & Svenson, G. J. (2017). Manual of praying mantis morphology, nomenclature, and practices (Insecta, Mantodea). ZooKeys, (696), 1–100.
Svenson, G.J. & Whiting, M.F. (2004) Phylogeny of Mantodea based on molecular data: evolution of a charismatic predator. Systematic Entomology, 29, 359–370.
Svenson, G. J., & Whiting, M. F. (2009). Reconstructing the origins of praying mantises (Dictyoptera, Mantodea): the roles of Gondwanan vicariance and morphological convergence. Cladistics, 25(5), 468-514.
Wieland, F. (2013). The phylogenetic system of Mantodea (Insecta: Dictyoptera). Göttingen: Universitätsverlag Göttingen.
Wieland, F. & Svenson, G. J. (2018). Biodiversity of Mantodea. Insect Biodiversity: Science and Society, 2, 389–416.