Mantids are usually large, robust insects with mobile heads and large eyes. Mantids are visual predators that ambush prey with serrated forelimbs. I will be discussing the quintessential giant or common green mantid.
The giant or common green mantid (Sphodromantis gastrica) belongs to the Mantodea order, Mantidea family. These include other common and stick mantids, which are green or brown, but they are not the beautiful floral mimics (Hymenopodidae family).
The giant mantid is found throughout South Africa and parts of Africa. They prefer dense foliage cover, such as bushes and trees, where they are camouflaged and await unsuspecting prey. They are common in domestic gardens and undisturbed vegetation. Provide shelter and hunting space in your garden by planting herbs that grow into substantial bushes, such as, Basil, Lavender, Mint and Rosemary. If you are able to purchase praying mantids, the giant ‘African’ (Sphodromantis gastrica) mantid is a huge favourite amongst collectors and insect enthusiasts and will be easy to find. (You can also buy some reallllly exotic ones too ).
Praying mantids eat anything they can manage, but giant mantids prefer caterpillars (juviniles readily eat smaller soft-bodied pests such as aphids and white flies) and other not-so-problematic insects, such as stink bugs.
Another Mantid Tip
When pruning herbs, shrubs or trees that are known mantid hideouts – keep an eye out for them and simply relocate them until the pruning ‘danger’ is over (shaking the pruned leaves over the garden lets them fall back onto the veg patch). Or when pulling out carrots and beets, be sure to check the foliage, they are sometimes in there too!
Now for some interesting Evolutionary stuff on mantids
Mantids can hear in the ultrasound spectrum (usually higher than 20 000 Hz, which is the maximum point at which we can hear). This was first thought to have arisen to hear bats, but phylogenetic (genetic relatedness studies amongst mantid species, living and extinct) has shown that this ultrasound hearing capacity evolved before bats (bats evolved around 63 Mya and the ultrasound hearing evolved around 120 Mya).
Two ‘ears’ or proper insect term for ear, two sets of tympanums are located on the bottom of the thorax between the legs, one at each side of the second and third pair of legs. Mantids respond to ultrasound only in flight, with the males being more responsive than females, as females are reluctant fliers and have reduced hearing.
Earlessness is considered to be the primitive or original state of the mantid and that hearing is a characteristic of more ‘newly’ evolved mantids species (newly being a relative term by evolutionary standards ). Some earless species do still exists and some mantids have lost their hearing ability, which is mostly linked to flightless females.
Now the reason for hearing matids. The cricket ear (located in the foreleg), evolved 200 Mya and is primarily used for communication. Matids could have used their ears for intraspecific communication (mantids belonging to the same species would communicate differently) or for prey location, but the original function was modified when bats evolved to avoid becoming dinner for echo-locating bats. Some birds also hunt in the ultrasound spectrum and wing movement produces ultrasound. So hearing could be an all round predator avoidance mechanism. But, this is all ‘educated/informative’ speculation and the true function of the mantid ear still remains a puzzle.
This summary was compiled from the following research article: