Photo courtesy of Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org.
Praying mantises are one of the most distinctive large insects that can be found in South Dakota. Their striking appearance, size and perceived rarity contributes to the frequent calls and emails that we receive regarding sightings and captures of these insects.
Common Mantis Species in S.D.
There are two species of praying mantis present in South Dakota: the Chinese mantis (Figure 1) and the European mantis (Figure 2). As their names indicate, neither species is native to North America. They were both independently introduced into the U.S. in the late 1800’s.
The two mantis species can easily be distinguished from one another as they have some key morphological differences. European mantises are around 2-3 inches in length, whereas Chinese mantises are significantly larger ( 4-5 inches). Chinese mantises have characteristic vertical stripes on the front of the head and a bold green stripe along the edge of the forewings. Both species can exhibit slight color variations, being either predominantly brown or green. In addition, European mantises have a characteristic “bulls-eye” that can be found on the inside of each raptorial foreleg.
|Fig. 1. Chinese mantis adult. Note the green line on the side of the abdomen. Photo by Adam J. Varenhorst.||Fig. 2. European mantis adult. Notice the black and white “bulls-eye” pattern on the left foreleg. Photo by Whitney Cranshaw, CSU, Bugwood.org.|
At this time of year, most of the mantises should be fully grown and the females will have already mated and laid their egg cases. The egg cases are the life stage that survives the winter, and in the spring praying mantis nymphs will hatch from them. Like many other insects in South Dakota, the adult praying mantises will die when temperatures drop in the fall.
Praying mantises make great short term pets
Praying mantises are relatively easy to keep for a short period of time and can be an excellent introduction to insect rearing and lessons on insect predators and biological control. Mantises can be kept in a terrarium or other similar container with a ventilated lid. Both mantis species are generalist predators – they will catch and consume other arthropods and insects. In captivity, moths, flies, small crickets, and grasshoppers are good prey items that are easy to find. Avoid leaving too many grasshoppers and crickets alone with a mantis, as they can overwhelm the mantis and begin feeding on it.