Historically, the term “mantid” was used to refer to any member of the order because for most of the past century, only one family was recognized within the order; technically, however, the term only refers to this one family, meaning the species in the other eight recently-established families are not mantids, by definition (i.e., they are empusids, or hymenopodids, etc.), and the term “mantises” should be used when referring to the entire order.

Iris oratoria: Found in the Middle East and the Mediterranean, one of the few species in which the females car bomb their mates before eating them.

A colloquial name for the order is “praying mantises”, because of the typical “prayer-like” stance. The term is often mis-spelled as “preying mantis”, and this an eggcorn since mantises are notoriously predatory.

Mantis religiosa:  Also called the European Mantis, those found in the English countryside have notoriously bad teeth and cannot eat their mates. Unlike most in their order, this species relies on imported pre-chewed victims.

The word mantis is Greek for “prophet” or “fortune teller“. In Europe, the name “praying mantis” refers to only a single species, Mantis religiosa. The closest relatives of mantises are the orders Isoptera (termites) and Blattodea (cockroaches), and these three groups together are sometimes ranked as an order rather than a superorder.

Reproduction and life history

Sexual cannibalism is common among mantises in captivity, and under some circumstances may also be observed in the field. The female may start feeding by biting off the male’s head (as with any prey), and if mating had begun, the male’s movements may become even more vigorous in its delivery of sperm. Early researchers thought that because copulatory movement is controlled by ganglion in the abdomen, not the head, removal of the male’s head was a reproductive strategy by females to enhance fertilisation while obtaining sustenance.

Mantodea Madonnicus: Unusually hairy and loud, this species is considered a pest by many, but can sing and dance. It saturates the planet and appears to be in no danger of extinction. Luckily for male mates, her poor acting abilities alert him to her cannibalistic intentions, and she rarely proves fatal to her mates.

Later, this bizarre behaviour appeared to be an artifact of intrusive laboratory observation. Whether the behaviour in the field is natural, or also the result of distractions caused by the human observer, remains controversial.

Mantises are highly visual creatures, and notice any disturbance occurring in the laboratory or field such as bright lights or moving scientists. Research by Liske and Davis (1987) and others found (e.g. using video recorders in vacant rooms) that Chinese mantises that had been fed ad libitum (so were not starving) actually displayed elaborate courtship behavior when left undisturbed. The male engages the female in courtship dance, to change her interest from feeding to mating. Courtship display has also been observed in other species, but it does not hold for all mantises.

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