European mantis facts, pictures and in-depth information.
Despite its name, the European mantis is found not only in Europe, but also in Asia and Africa. The species has also been introduced to North America, and is found in both the United States and Canada.
The European mantis is one of several species known as a ‘praying mantis’.
Read on to find out more about this fascinating predatory insect…
- European Mantis Facts At A Glance
- Meet The European Mantis: Introduction
- What Does The European Mantis Look Like?
- Where Is The European Mantis Found?
- European Mantis Habitat
- European Mantis Life Cycle
- What Does The European Mantis Eat?
- European Mantis Predators
- Is The European Mantis Endangered?
European Mantis Facts At A Glance
- Other Name(s): Praying mantis
- Scientific name: Mantis religiosa
- Type of Animal: Insect
- Animal Family: Mantidae
- Where Found: Southern Europe, Africa, Asia, North America
- Length: 5 to 9 cm (2 to 3.5 in)
- Conservation Status: Least Concern
Meet The European Mantis: Introduction
The European mantis is a predatory insect in the family Mantidae. It has a number of adaptations for capturing and devouring its mainly insect prey. These include powerful mandibles (mouthparts) and long, spiked forelegs.
It’s those forelegs that give the European mantis – and other mantises – the alternative name of ‘praying mantis’; while at rest the insect has an upright stance and holds its forelegs forwards as if praying.
What Does The European Mantis Look Like?
The European mantis has an elongated body, long, slender limbs, and two pairs of wings. The insect’s forelegs are known as ‘raptorial legs’ because they are adapted for capturing prey. The raptorial legs are modified with sharp spikes that prevent prey from escaping.
The mantis’s head is triangular with large compound eyes and beak-like mouthparts. The head is highly mobile and can be rotated through 180 degrees.
The coloration of the European mantis is highly variable. The species may be green, brown, yellow or even black in color.
The female European mantis is heavier and larger than the male, reaching a maximum length of around 9 cm compared to the male’s 7 cm. The male is generally more active and has longer antennae and larger eyes. The abdomen of the female has six segments, while that of the male has eight.
Due to their large size, females lose the ability to fly early in their lives. Males are able to fly even as adults.
Where Is The European Mantis Found?
The European mantis has a very large distribution range, being found in Europe, Africa, Asia, and (possibly) Australia. The species has also been introduced to North America, and is present in the United States and Canada.
Around 12 European mantis subspecies are recognized across the species’ range.
European Mantis Habitat
The European mantis is found in variety of wild and urban habitats, ranging from open valleys to roadside verges and even urban gardens.
The species is typically found in warm natural habitats with long grass, herbaceous and shrubby plants, a good range of prey, and plenty of sunlight.
The adults are able to tolerate considerably high temperatures and may be found in semi-arid desert regions. The ootheca (egg case) can survive harsh winters.
The European mantis hunts mainly by sight. Information about its surroundings are provided by the insect’s large, forward-facing compound eyes, and by three small, simple eyes positioned between the compound eyes on the top of the head.
The mantis can rotate its head 180 degrees and often moves its head from side to side in a pendulum-like motion. This improves the insect’s ability to judge distances.
The European mantis also has a unique organ called a ‘midline metathoracic ear’, which is located between the animal’s third pair of legs. The organ is sensitive to a range of sound frequencies, including ultrasound (sound waves too high in frequency to be heard by the human ear).
European Mantis Life Cycle
There are three stages to the European mantis life cycle: egg; nymph; and adult.
This form of insect development is known as ‘three-stage metamorphosis’, or ‘incomplete metamorphosis’. There is no pupal stage such as that seen in butterfly development.
As a nymph, the mantis resembles a miniature version of its adult form.
Mating usually takes place in September or October during the warmest part of the day.
The male mantis is at risk of being eaten before, after and even during mating. For this reason the initial approach by the male is extremely cautious. He approaches the female from behind, stopping frequently in order to remain undetected.
It can take several hours for the male to get close enough to the female to be able to jump on her back and grasp her with his raptorial legs.
During copulation, the male deposits a spermatophore (a packet of sperm) inside the female. Around 11 days after mating, the female produces an ootheca (an egg case). This can contain up to 400 eggs and is around 2 to 3 cm (0.8 to 1.2 in) in diameter.
The female attaches the ootheca to a branch, where the eggs will overwinter in the northern parts of the animal’s range. (In the southern parts of the species’ range, it may be seen throughout the year in its adult form.)
The nymphs hatch the following spring and undergo their first molt soon after hatching. As a nymph, the mantis undergoes eight molts. The stages between molts are known as ‘instars’.
The species reaches sexual maturity a few days after completing their final mount into winged adults. The males usually die after mating and the females after producing an ootheca.
What Does The European Mantis Eat?
The European mantis is a carnivore. It preys mainly on a variety of insects, including crickets, grasshoppers, moths, butterflies, flies and bees.
The mantis may also prey on other invertebrates, including spiders. In these encounters, it can be the mantis that ends up as prey if the spider is large enough.
The European mantis is an ambush predator. Camouflaged against its background, the mantis waits motionlessly, continuously scanning its environment for movement.
The mantis strikes as soon as its prey comes within reach, grasping its victim with its raptorial legs. The prey, unable to escape due to the sharp spines on the mantis’s legs, is eaten while still alive and moving.
The European mantis is known for its cannibalistic tendencies. As well as females feeding on males during mating, nymphs may start to attack and eat each other in crowded conditions.
European Mantis Predators
The European mantis has a number of predators, including vertebrates such as birds, lizards and frogs, and invertebrates such as large spiders and hornets.
In order to avoid predation, the mantis makes itself appear larger and more threatening by spreading its wings and bending its raptorial legs to reveal eye-like spots at the base of the legs.
Is The European Mantis Endangered?
The European mantis is rated ‘Least Concern’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The species is widespread and no global threats have been identified.
On a local level populations are vulnerable to habitat destruction and high levels of urbanization. In Germany the species is listed as endangered.