KIDS ASK: Does a Praying Mantis Really Pray?

The common name for this insect is “praying mantis” because we often see it with its two grasping, spiked forelegs folded in a prayer-like position. A more appropriate name for this member of the family, Mantidae, should be “preying mantis,” because this ambush predator will camouflage itself and spend long periods standing perfectly still. When its unfortunate prey ambles by, the mantis strikes with incredible speed and slices  into its meal with sharp mandibles (jaws), killing it immediately, or consuming its prey alive.

Young mantises will consume small flies and even their own brothers and sisters. As a mantis ages and grows larger, its appetite and the size of its prey increases. Mantises are known to eat small scorpions, lizards, frogs, birds, snakes, fish, and even rodents. To better snare their prey, mantises are capable of changing their color or camouflaging themselves to blend with the surrounding vegetation. They, like other stick insects, also rock to and fro in the wind, perhaps trying to mimic the leaves around them or as a way to visually locate their prey.

In any case, this insect could be accurately named a “praying” mantis or a “preying” mantis!