Predators: Mantid Identification

Michael Gochfeld gochfeld at
Mon Oct 19 08:27:52 EDT 1998

I propose to circulate the following to those interested in butterfly 
predators, but first I wanted to check on the accuracy.  Any comments 
would be appreciated, particularly from Mantid experts.  I'd also 
appreciate knowing the names of other Mantid experts (not on the 
LEPS-LISt who might check on the validity.  It appears that this 
is a group where species level identification might be 
by Michael Gochfeld  10/6/98
	The October meeting of NABA-North Jersey chapter was devoted to 
predation on butterflies and several slides were shown of different 
mantids consuming a variety of butterflies.  A lively discussion ensued 
regarding the identification of the mantids.  Although even 
schoolchildren can recognize a Praying Mantis, there are several species 
of mantids which can and should be distinguished.  It is a relief that 
there are only five species of mantids that are common in North America, 
one of which is native and four of which have become common due to 
commercial distribution of their egg cases.  We can applaud the fact 
that a century ago, people were sufficiently alert to biological pest 
control, that they imported and sold mantid egg cases in the mistaken 
belief that mantids are valuable for pest control.  The slides presented 
at the meeting suggest that they are excellent predators on butterflies, 
although there probably aren't enough mantids anywhere to seriously 
impact any population of insect---desirable or pestiferous.  They are 
famous cannibals (females renowned for devouring their mates), and young 
consume siblings, thereby "controlling" their own populations. 
	Collectively mantids are referred to as the Praying Mantis, due 
to the position of the short, grasping forelegs which appear to be held 
in a supplicating position, and most field guides show only one typical 
all purpose mantis.  However,  one could confine this name to the 
European species which is called Mantis religiosa,   On the other hand 
since all mantids are active and fierce predators, taking prey as large 
as hummingbirds and occasionally even small warblers, it would be just 
as reasonable to call them all Preying Mantises. I once wrote a short 
article entitled "Praying or Preying Mantis" describing the previously 
unrecognized frequency of their predation on birds.
	The following information was gleaned from several sources some 
of which are cited at the end of the article.  Some of the information 
on size and distribution is conflicting, so new studies may alter some 
of the information below.  Size is taken from Arnett and distribution 
from Milne and Milne.  Some of the species are not illustrated in field 
	The Mantids and Cockroaches now comprise the Order Dictyoptera 
(when I was growing up mantids were in the Orthoptera with grasshoppers, 
and many books such as Borror and White follow this tradition).  The 
suborder Mantodea contains 8 families world wide, of which only one, the 
Mantidae, occurs in North America.  Most of the 1500 mantid species are 
tropical, but there are 20 species in 12 genera recorded in North 
America of which the following five are common in the East.

Carolina Mantis (Stagmomantis carolina) is the commonest of the native 
mantids in the East.  Length is 45-60 mm. Body and wing coloration is 
mainly green (sometimes brown) often heavily mottled with darker brown. 
The wings do not reach the tip of the abdomen, especially apparent in 
females. Head and thorax almost as long as the abdomen (hence the 
"waist" is nearly in the middle of the body, whereas in other species 
the wings & abdomen are longer than head and thorax ("waist" is only 
about 1/3 of the length). (Photo 302 in Milne & Milne). It occurs in 
southeastern and southern US (Indiana and Virginia to California and 

Mediterranean Mantis (Iris oratoria) is 45-55 mm long, usually green, 
with some brownish dorsal markings.  The hindwings reddish with dark eye 
spots. Introduced in 1933, and not as widespread as the other introduced 
European or Praying Mantis (Mantis religiosa), is 45-65 mm. The green of 
the front wing merges gradually into the brown of the hindwing. The 
dorsal surface of the hindwing may be striated with dark brown. Wingtips 
extend to or just beyond the abdomen tip. Introduced accidentally in 
1899 but recognized as a beneficial predator on Gypsy Moths. (Photo 299 
& 300 in Milne & Milne).  Widespread in eastern North America. 

Chinese Mantis (Tenodera aridifolia sinensis).  This is the common large 
species (75-105 mm) in the Northeast.  On the forewings, green is 
sharply confined to the front or costal area; body sometimes brown on 
sides, in which case the green margin makes a sharply defined streak 
along the side of the body. The hind wings have heavy dark markings 
which can take the appearance of dense speckling.  Wings extend beyond 
abdomen tip.  Introduced in 1896 as a beneficial predator. (Photo 298 in 
Milne & Milne). Massachusetts to New Jersey west to Ohio. 

Narrow-winged Mantis (Tenodera angustipennis) Also large (70-105 mm).   
The front or costal margin of the forewings is green.  Hind wings 
narrower than front and lightly marked with black.  Introduced in 1926. 
Delaware and Maryland. Possibly extending beyond these states.   

Ground Mantids (Litaneutria). Small mantises (up to 30 mm long) of arid 
grasslands in the western United States. Females have very short wings. 
Males mostly grey or brown with varying combinations of spots.  They 
prey on ants and other small creatures.  There are about four species, 
one of which The Obscure Ground Mantis is illustrated in Milne & Milne 
(photo 301).

	Gravid female Mantids of all species show huge swollen abdomens. 
 They also defend themselves aggressively against wood-be avian 
predators by elevating their forewings and lunging forward.  If the 
threat continues they become visibly agitated, lunging one way and the 
other.  One wonders if they emit sounds at this time, but if so they are 
masked by the calls of their avian harassers. 

Arnett, R.H. 1993. American Insects: A Handbook of the Insects of 
America North of Mexico.  Sandhill Crane Press, Gainesville, FL. 

Borror, D.J. and R.E. White. 1970. A Field Guide to the Insects of 
America North of Mexico. Houghton Mifflin, Boston'

Milne, L. and M. Milne. 1980. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North 
American Insects and Spiders. A.A. Knopf/Chanticleer Press, New York. 

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