The praying mantis has to be in the running for the most interesting insect. They’re fascinating to learn about; whether it’s the decapitation of the males in the breeding ritual, or the Chinese belief that harming one of these stoic stick bugs will result in a torrential downpour of misfortune.
In the interest of offering some insight into these unique, often misunderstood creatures, we will be covering what exactly their diet consists of.
These camouflaged carnivores will snack on things as small as an ant all the way up to lizards and small birds.
If you ever wanted to know just how effective and efficient the praying mantis is at hunting its varied range of prey, then you’ve come to the right place!
What Does a Praying Mantis Hunt?
Given their covert approach to trapping their prey, the praying mantis does not typically have to worry about dealing with their larger meals head-on.
Because of their ability to blend into their environment, it isn’t atypical for an ant, insect, or frog to be less than a foreleg from the mantis before they realize the mistake they have made.
The only prey that seems to be safe from a praying mantis is one that has already expired, as a mantis will only eat things that are alive to fill nutritional needs.
Praying mantises will eat ants.
In all honesty, an ant is not the easy dinner it may appear to be. These studious workers possess very dangerous pincers called mandibles on their mouth which can cause serious bodily harm to any would-be attackers. This is on top of a pheromone they send out to other ants that informs the colony one of their own is in danger.
Despite how most prey animals flee when one of their own is captured, ants swarm the attacker until they overtake it or it flees.
The difference with a mantis is in its execution. Once the mantis has a grip on its prey, the fighting is typically over.
This and its camouflage make it exceptionally hard for fellow ants to spot the intruder, making it one of the most dangerously efficient predators that ants have.
Moths, Mosquitoes, and Flies
Due to the limited mobility of a praying mantis, this group of airborne insects may come as a surprise to most. But the mantis relies on its camouflage far more than its ability to run down its dinner.
Many gardeners with insect infestations will actually release a praying mantis into the foliage of their garden to hunt the bugs responsible for destroying their plants.
This is because they blend in perfectly and are not picky in what they will consume.
The same can be done for mosquitoes for those of us who can’t stand to walk to the garage without making a tempo of slaps from all the pesky bloodsuckers.
Place a praying mantis near a stagnant pool of water that is close to your house and this patient predator will lessen the population in no time.
Roaches, Aphids, and Most Insects
This one will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with mantis behavior. They love insects, and they make up the majority of a mantis’s diet. A mantis will lie in wait for an insect in the same spot until one poor, unsuspecting bug wanders too close and by that time, it is already too late.
Due to them usually staying on plants or trees with higher critter traffic, it only makes sense that bugs would be on their dinner menu.
Rodents, Reptiles and Small Birds
Yeah, these guys are really hardcore. In fact, a praying mantis is capable of killing creatures three times its own size. Due to its insane reflexes and sharpened forelegs, it is capable of taking out creatures that would otherwise be very deadly to it.
While the praying mantis seems to prefer smaller, more easily ingested pray like the ones previously stated it certainly has no problem ambushing a passing hummingbird if it doesn’t have any smaller alternatives.
How does a Praying Mantis Hunt?
When someone is able to achieve something that the majority of people would see as impossible, naturally an explanation is desired. The same can be said of a bug that can turn the tide over on a wandering snake if it gets the jump on it.
So to help you better get in touch with your inner garden-roaming predator, here is exactly how praying mantises find and catch their prey.
The chameleon of the insect world, the praying mantis is capable of a wide spectrum of colors that depend entirely on what environment they are in.
While some of the more exotic mantids come in colors that resemble azalea flowers, the typical colors of a mantis are shades of brown and green.
What is more interesting is that the mantis will shed its skin every couple of weeks to better match its enclosure of choice. These clever hunters can even match the colors of bark, moss, flowers, or even decaying plants.
With this innate ability to remain undetected, you can hardly blame its daily diet for making the unfortunate mistake of wandering into its striking radius.
The second cog in this dangerous mechanism of the animal kingdom is the incredible visual acuity of a mantis. Mantids can see up to sixty feet away and have a head that can turn 180 degrees or a half rotation on either side.
Even more surprising is that mantids have five eyes. The big two that you can easily make out are to help spot prey as it skitters across a twig, detecting both movement and depth. The three smaller ones are used to reveal light.
Their Foreleg Grip
A mantis, when hunting a bird, will usually snatch a bird by the neck and grip it in place as it breaks into its skull and chews on brain matter, while the bird is still alive.
That terrifying fact will haunt my sleep schedule for weeks to come, but it shows just how scary the grip of a mantis really is. This uncomfortable bearhug is only made worse by the fact that their forelegs are razor sharp and cut into whatever they are holding to establish a firmer grip.
A praying mantis is so strong, in fact, that it can hold its own body weight and its prey while dangling from a twig, all the while absent-mindedly enjoying the most demented meal you will ever lay eyes on.
The praying mantis is a pretty agreeable eater who will munch on most things that come its way, including ants.
This has even resulted in cannibalism between rival mantids fighting over a potential mate, or even the female biting off the male’s head.
So whether you have an interest in learning more about the praying mantis you find patiently waiting behind a collection of leaves or you are looking to expand upon a domesticated friend’s diet, you can breathe a sigh of relief. These guys have a diet as varied and random as most humans!