The Praying Mantis and Walking Stick
Nature Bulletin No. 643-A May 28, 1977
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
George W. Dunne, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation
THE PRAYING MANTIS AND WALKING STICK
Like the farmer who saw his first circus giraffe and whispered to his
wife, "There ain't no such animal, " a stranger to certain of the odd-balls
of the insect world can hardly believe his eyes. Among the weirdest of
them all, seen once in a while in this region, are the Praying Mantis and
the Walking Stick. Everything about them seems to be greatly
of these queer creatures belong to that great group of ancient
insects called the Orthoptera (meaning the Straight-Wingers, in Greek)
along with cockroaches, crickets, grasshoppers and katydids. While
their numerous relatives have wings and feed on plant materials, our
walking sticks have no wings at any stage and the praying mantis, just
to be different, eats nothing but living insects and other small animals.
Both are masters of the art of camouflage.
The praying mantis gets its name from the long spiked forelegs which
are bent in an attitude of prayer as it perches motionless on a leaf or
twig or flower waiting for a victim to come along. Suddenly, these
forelegs lash out faster than the eye can follow, and snatch the bee,
beetle or such between its lower leg and upper leg. Then, the triangular
head with its two great eyes and strong cutting jaws leisurely bends
down and bites out chunks like we eat corn on the cob. Afterwards the
leg spines are cleaned and its face washed like a cat. On the watch for a
kill, the head can be turned to look over its shoulder.
The Chinese mantis, imported to the east coast in 1896, is occasionally
seen in the Chicago region as the result of egg cases brought in for the
control of garden pests. About three inches long with four nearly
transparent wings, the long thin upper body is tilted upward from a
flattened lower body. The Carolina mantis, a smaller native species of
the southern states, is found in southern Illinois.
Mantises mate in early autumn after which the bride often eats the
groom for her wedding breakfast. Soon she lays clusters of several
hundred eggs on trees, shrubs and grass stems. In each cluster the eggs
are arranged in layers and enclosed in a foamy secretion which hardens
into a brown waterproof egg case the size of a walnut. The following
spring the numerous young come tumbling from the egg case and
scatter -- but not before many an infant mantis has dined on his brothers
and sisters. They feed ravenously, go through several molts, and are
fully grown by late summer.
Walking sticks can be plentiful among the leaves of trees or in grass
and yet not be seen because they mimic a twig or stem so exactly. The
two local species, one in the woodlands and one in prairie areas, have
bodies about four inches long and one-eighth inch wide when adult.
They even have body rings that look like growth rings on a twig, In
early summer they are green like the fresh new growth of plants; later
they become brown as the vegetation changes color. The six long
spindly legs add to the deception. Actually, the name is misleading
because they do very little walking.
In autumn the female walking stick drops a few hundred shot-like eggs,
one by one, and lets them fall where they may. In spring the little green
young emerge and slowly clamber upward.
The praying mantis is a pious fraud.
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Update: June 2012