Praying mantises are usually gray, green, or brown and about two inches long. They eat meat—including invertebrates and insects. Specifically, they will chow down on wasps, moths, crickets, beetles, butterflies, grasshoppers, spiders, and flies. Mantises can eat up to 20 flies in one day. It’s also not unheard of for bigger mantis to eat small reptiles. We’re talking lizards and little frogs.
In order to get their food, mantis perch themselves on plants in a position that enables them to catch any insect that comes within easy reach. They do not actively hunt for their food. The mantis uses its camouflage to blend into its environment. Its forelegs aid it in catching its meals. The legs act like a pocket knife, with spines to grasp and help hold the insect that the mantis is about to devour. Once the mantis has an insect in its grip, it will first bite off the head of its prey. Of course, female mantises are known for biting off the head of her partner during mating. It has been discovered, however, that this is a rare practice in the wild and a more common act among caged mantises.
Because of the mantis’ great ability to capture food—e.g., insects—gardeners love them! Praying mantises serve as beneficial helpers in the garden. The number of mantis’ in a garden isn’t generally enough to eliminate enormous populations of pests. Because of this, gardeners may sometimes put mantis egg cases in gardens. While this act doesn’t necessarily guarantee that pest insects will be eliminated from a garden, it helps reduce their numbers. Gardeners love to see a mantis doing what it tends to do best—devouring another in their garden!
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