The Perfect Predator

One very warm day this summer I was lucky enough to observe a praying mantis (Mantis religiosa) in my back butterfly garden. I watched  attentively for some time as  the insect made himself at home within the stems of the tall perennials. This one was relatively small as a mantid goes, measuring only a few inches at most.  I remember seeing some as a kid that were much, much larger, but I suppose it could just have easily been that I was much smaller. However, I do still remember my amazement when, as a kid, I first observed one turn its head and look back directly over its shoulder at me. Good thing I was not easily spooked. But enough of my detour into childhood memories.

This day, after posing for some pictures on this flowery brightly colored background, this mantis climbed down within the brown speckled stems of my Echinacea and Eupatorium and “became one” with its surroundings. The shape of the insect’s body and its coloration provided the perfect camouflage.


It then proceeded to perch in that position with little movement for quite some time lying in wait for some unsuspecting victim to wander into its attack zone. After about 2 hours (no, I did not sit there watching it for the entire time as there is way too much work to be done in my garden) I was rewarded with the opportunity to watch as a red milkweed beetle rambled just a little too close. In a lightning fast movement the mantis snatched the beetle, grasping it with its spiked forelegs.

Close up showing the powerful front forelegs of the praying mantis
Close up showing the powerful front forelegs of the praying mantis

Since the praying mantis is an insect that feeds on living food it held the struggling beetle securely in its legs and wasted no time in taking its first bite. It brought back memories of those bad horror movies on Hallowe’en eve (you know, the ones that used to air annual on WLVI Ch. 56?). Watching the display it was quite clear that the mantis is quite the fearsome hunter and could be, possibly, the perfect predator.

Some interesting facts about the praying mantis:

  • It is named for the prayer-like position in which it holds its front legs
  • It can turn their triangular heads up to 180 degrees
  • While they are mating, the female praying mantis may eat the head of its mate – not the type for a long-term relationship I think…
  • The praying mantis has excellent eyesight and can see up to about 50 feet away
  • The praying mantis found commonly in New England is not native to this country – it is from Southern Europe. It will grow to a length of 3 inches
  • The European Mantis (mantis religiosa) although not native to this country became the official State Insect of Connecticut on October 1st, 1977
  • The other mantis found in Massachusetts is the Chinese mantis (Tenodera aridifolia) introduced into the Northeast in the 1890s to help control insect pests – it will grow up to 5 inches in length and has been known to prey upon small mammals and birds