Will a Praying Mantis Bite?

praying mantis

If it could be claimed that I have a favorite insect, it would be the praying mantis. It seems that every year, one or two find their way into the house. They are welcome house guests, but the do most of their best work outside, in the garden.

There are some species of mantis that are tiny, others are much larger and species that blend in to the background exceptionally well. They often look decidedly wicked, worthy of a Hollywood special effects monster or creature, with a roughly triangular head that seems to be able to pivot in almost any direction, a nearly insatiable appetite and a pair of ‘praying’ arms that appear to have spines on them, capable of grabbing onto just about anything. It is only natural that a person might wonder if these insects bite, particularly the larger ones, too. The answer is a resounding, “Yes,” though it does require a bit of explanation.

Mantids

There are about 2,400 species of praying mantis, the largest reported having been found in China in the late 1920s and measuring an astounding 18 inches in length. It is hard to imagine one that is a foot and a half in length. Those that are most commonly found in gardens and fields in the United States seldom get much larger than three inches in length, but this is still a pretty large insect, again remembering that there are species that never do get very big. They have a voracious appetite and seem to be constantly hungry. Even a male praying mantis is often on the dinner menu after breeding with the female. Only a few males escape breeding with their lives. One could think of it as natures way to ensure fidelity.

Incidentally, when the term ‘mantid’ is used, it includes all species of praying mantis, while ‘mantis’ is commonly used when a specific species is being referenced. Quite often the two words are used interchangeably, though not entirely correctly.

Praying or preying

This is an insect that relies on coloration and occasionally body shape, to help it blend in to the surroundings. It uses a pair of highly modified and specialized front legs that can zip out to snatch prey almost faster than the eye can see. It is a fierce predator and most insects, spiders and in some cases even mice and birds are its prey. However, the name isn’t ‘preying,’ it is ‘praying.’ Though it does prey on other insects and small animals, the name comes from the trait of holding the front legs folded and ready to reach out and grab. The folded first pair of legs rather look like someone praying, hence the name.

Diet of mantids

To say that a mantis has a varied diet would be understating it greatly. A newly hatched mantis might be content with eating fruit flies and midges. Many species remain small, too. With big ones, though, all bets are off. Almost anything that moves and that is small enough to be devoured can be actively hunted: Flies, moths, butterflies, bees, wasps, spiders and almost anything else. There are accounts of mantids eating small frogs, lizards, hummingbirds and even mice, though larger animals like these are probably rarely caught and eaten and it is probable that only the largest specimens will even try capturing prey that is this large.

It is their propensity to eat troublesome insects that causes this creature to be considered a great friend of the gardener. The problem is that they are as apt to eat a good insect, like a ladybug, as they are to devour a bad one, like a grasshopper.

Biting of the praying mantis

From this information it shouldn’t be difficult to see that these insects do bite. Being carnivores, they would most likely die if they didn’t. However, they eat only the prey that they can handle, not that this would necessarily stop one from trying to eat something that was a bit too big. This isn’t usually what is meant by the question, ‘Does a praying mantis bite,’ though. Normally, the question is made in reference to biting humans.

From the standpoint of humans, a large praying mantis is capable of biting, but they rarely do. When one finds its way into the house, my response is usually to carefully pick it up, let it ride around on my shoulder for a while, then to take it outside to eat insects. I have yet to be bitten.

A big mantis is quite capable of biting and they do bite their prey. However, they don’t often bite people. There is little reason to do so, as there is no way that they are going to devour a person, which is their main reason for biting in the first place. This means that even those species large enough to bite a person isn’t likely to do so.

So if the question was actually, “Will a praying mantis bite a person?” The answer would likely be, “Only in B-movies.”

 


 

 

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