1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Mantis

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MANTIS, an insect belonging to the order Orthoptera. Probably no other insect has been the subject of so many and widespread legends and superstitions as the common “praying mantis,” Mantis religiosa, L. The ancient Greeks endowed it with supernatural powers (μάντις, a diviner); the Turks and Arabs hold that it prays constantly with its face turned towards Mecca; the Provençals call it Prega-Diou (Prie-Dieu); and numerous more or less similar names — preacher, saint, nun, mendicant, soothsayer, &c. — are widely diffused throughout southern Europe. In Nubia it is held in great esteem, and the Hottentots, if not indeed worshipping the local species (M. fausta), as one traveller has alleged, at least appear to regard its alighting upon any person both as a token of saintliness and an omen of good fortune.

Yet these are “not the saints but the tigers of the insect world.” The front pair of limbs are very peculiarly modified — the coxa being greatly elongated, while the strong third joint or femur bears on its curved underside a channel armed on each edge by strong movable spines. Into this groove the stout tibia is capable of closing like the blade of a penknife, its sharp, serrated edge being adapted to cut and hold. Thus armed, with head raised upon the much-elongated and semi-erect prothorax, and with the half-opened fore-limbs held outwards in the characteristic devotional attitude, it rests motionless upon the four posterior limbs waiting for prey, or occasionally stalks it with slow and silent movements, finally seizing it with its knife-blades and devouring it. Although apparently not daring to attack ants, these insects destroy great numbers of flies, grasshoppers and caterpillars, and the larger South-American species even attack small frogs, lizards and birds. They are very pugnacious, fencing with their sword-like limbs “like hussars with sabres,” the larger frequently devouring the smaller, and the females the males. The Chinese keep them in bamboo cages, and match them like fighting-cocks.

The common species fixes its somewhat nut-like egg capsules on the stems of plants in September. The young are hatched in early summer, and resemble the adults, but are without wings.

Praying Mantis (Mantis religiosa).
Praying Mantis (Mantis religiosa).

The green coloration and shape of the typical mantis are procryptic, serving to conceal the insect alike from its enemies and prey. The passage from leaf to flower simulation is a step which, without interfering with the protective value of the coloration so far as insectivorous foes are concerned, carries with it the additional advantage of attracting flower-feeding insects within reach of the raptorial limbs. This method of allurement has been perfected in certain tropical species of Mantidae by the development on the prothorax and raptorial limbs of laminate expansions so coloured on the under side as to resemble papilionaceous or other blossoms, to which the likeness is enhanced by a gentle swaying kept up by the insect in imitation of the effect of a lightly blowing breeze. As instances of this may be cited Idalum diabolicum, an African insect, and Gongylus gongyloides, which comes from India. Examples of another species (Empusa eugena) when standing upon the ground deceptively imitate in shape and hue a greenish white anemone tinted at the edges with rose; and Bates records what appears to be a true case of aggressive mimicry practised by a Brazilian species which exactly resembles the white ants it preys upon.