Marvellous Mantodea

Mantodea are an order of insects known as praying mantis. The word mantodea derives from mantis meaning prophet, and eidos meaning form or type. The common name, praying mantis, refers to the way they hold their forelimbs.

There are over 2,400 species of mantis worldwide, split into 21 different families. The collage below shows their incredible diversity of colour, shape and size. While they may differ in appearance, their biology and many behavioural traits are the same.

A try of a selection of praying mantis specimens

Mantis are predators of insects, including other mantis, but larger species will eat small lizards and birds. But they are perhaps best known for being cannibalistic. This behaviour is most commonly seen in nymphs straight out of the egg case, or ootheca, but it can also occur when the female eats the male after mating. Cannibalism is not required to mate, so when it happens it’s usually because the female is hungry!

Praying mantis are ambush hunters, either camouflaging themselves while waiting for their prey to approach, or actively stalking prey. Their compound eyes are specialised in perceiving motion, and are widely spaced giving them a wide field of vision. Along with powerful front legs and an ability to move the head up to 180°, this makes them successful predators.

These original drawings and annotations from the Museum’s archive are by John Obadiah Westwood (1805–1893), the first Hope Professor of Zoology. As a renowned scientist Westwood described many new mantis species, and was also a very talented artist

Sketch of mantis by J O Westwood