Episode 128 – Praying Mantis: The Penitent Predator

“…and today we’re talking about an insect that’s not as pious and charitable as it’s posture projects. But more on that later.”

While the prayers of a righteous man availeth much, the prayers of a righteous bug aren’t as effective. In fact, there is no such thing as a righteous bug. But that doesn’t stop the infamous praying mantis from folding its hands whenever it gets the chance. But contrary to unpopular belief, the mantis isn’t praying (with an “-a”), he’s preying (with an “-e”). These hands, folded in mock prayer, are actually swift to shed blood—insect blood, that is. But that’s just another day in the brutal world of insects here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.


  • The european mantis is the classic looking large green praying mantis. 
  • It has a long grasshopper-like body with backward facing hind legs.
  • It’s distinctive raptorial first legs are folded and spiked in that praying shape.
  • They have triangle shaped heads with large forward facing compound eyes.
  • They can also fly with long locust-like wings. 
  • Mantises often use camouflage and many can come in a variety of looks from full camo to brilant colors. 
  • The european variety is solid green to blend in with leafy plants. 

Measure Up

Welcome to the beloved Measure Up segment. The official listener’s favorite part of the show! The part of the show when we present the animal’s size and dimension in relatable terms through a quiz that’s fun for the whole family. It’s also the part of the show that’s introduced by you when you send in audio of yourself saying, singing, or chittering the words measure up into ldtaxonomy at gmail dot com. We don’t have a new measure up intro this week so we get to hear from an animal and Carlos has to guess what it is!

  1. Robin
  2. Toad
  3. Squirrel
  4. Cheetah


  • Females are between 7–9 cm while males are slightly smaller.
  • 9 cm
  • How many mantises go into the height of a king shepherd?
  • King shepherds are a variant of german shepherds that are much larger than the original. German shepherds have been the subject of controversy in which the Kennel Club that breeds show dogs have bred the characteristic sloping backs into shepherds, but German shepherd breeding clubs that bred working dogs have pointed out that the show dogs are extremely deformed. Today the Kennel Club has decided to retrain judges to penalize unhealthy bred deformities. 
  • 8.7 mantises. King Shepherds can be as tall as 31 inches (78 cm) at the shoulder. 


  • 5 grams.
  • How many mantises go into the world’s largest wedding cake?
  • The cake was made at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut in 2004. Little known fact, German Chocolate Cake was invented in the U.S. and has nothing to do with Germany. It was originally called German’s chocolate cake because chocolate maker Samuel German came up with the formulation of baking chocolate used in the recipe. Either way, I’ve been looking at pictures and I’d like some right now, please. 
  • 1,363,680 mantises. The cake was 6.818 tonnes (15,032 lb).

Fast Facts

  • Mantids have two big compound eyes but it also has three smaller eyes on the top of it’s head. 
    • They have excellent eyesight and these multiple eyes help it to see things all around it. 
    • They can also rotate their head 180 degrees. 
  • Mantids stand on four limbs and often keep their first limbs folded up. 
    • It’s long body on four legs makes walking cumbersome.
    • But it can fly for long trips.
    • As an ambush predator with camo, they spend a lot of their time positioned in one spot.
  • Humans eat and reposition their food in their mouths with the jaw and tongue.
    • But mantids have complex finger-like mouth parts that can pull in and reposition food. 
  • I like to eat vegetables first to get them out of the way, but mantids prefer to eat the limbs off of their dinner plates first. 
    • Mantids are aggressive hunters that will go after almost anything, even much larger prey. 
    • This can also get them killed by equally hungry prey. 
  • Mantids lay eggs in pouches called an ootheca that stick to surfaces. 
    • When they are ready, up to 200 larvae emerge like an alien chest burster.
    • They go through several instars and develop more and more with each moult.
    • Most don’t survive the first instar.

Expert Bug Killer

  • The praying mantis is perfectly designed to kill and eat a whole host of different insects. While it mainly prefers grasshoppers, roaches, and crickets, it also east spiders, myriapods (millipedes and centipedes), worms, and snails. 
    • The Animal Planet segment said that “birds, mice, frogs, snakes, lizards, and soft-shelled turtles cannot escape the deadly speed and precision of the praying mantis.”
    • I’m not sure if that means that it hunts these animals or that they’re just not as fast. The Chinese Praying Mantis can get to be almost 5 inches long, so I guess it could eat small chicks and frogs.
  • It will also eat other mantises and often engages in sexual cannibalism where the female eats the male after mating. Horrifying but not uncommon in the insect world.
  • Its precision comes from its compound eyes (two eyes that are actually made up of thousands of little eyes). While it doesn’t have the kind of depth perception that a lot of mammals have thanks to having eyes that are too close together, the mantis can sway its head back and forth to see how its prey moves against the background and judge distance that way.
  • Once it spies its prey, it approaches slowly until it’s in striking range. Then it launches its front, folded, raptorial legs out (like the mantis shrimp).
  • However, unlike the mantis shrimp, the praying mantis isn’t trying to stun its prey with an angry fist. Instead, it launches its legs over the prey and scoops it up using the sharp spikes on the underside of the legs.
  • These spikes don’t always penetrate the prey’s exoskeleton, but they definitely get caught in wings, legs, and chitinous hairs. 
  • At this point, researchers used to think that the mantis would kill the prey with a neck slice with its mandibles. But then they noticed that it doesn’t go through the trouble of rotating the prey when it caught it from behind.
  • Instead, the mantis just starts eating whatever part of the prey is closest to its mouth, preferably while it’s still moving.

Ending: So fold your hands, pray for blessings, and be ready to strike when blessings come your way like the Praying Mantis here on LDT.


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