mantid or mantis, name applied to the large, slender, slow-moving, winged insects of the family Mantidae in the order Mantodea. Predatory insects, mantids have strong, elongate, spiny front legs, used for grasping prey. While lying in wait for its prey, a mantid holds its front legs in an upraised position suggestive of prayer; hence the Greek name mantis, or prophet, and the common name, "praying mantis."
The prothorax, or front portion of the body, is very long in proportion to its width, and the head, with its two large, protruding, compound eyes, can turn in any direction. Members of the 1,800 mantid species range in length from 1 to 5 in. (2.5–12.5 cm). Their typically green or brown color, in some cases with irregular patterns, camouflages them among the leaves and twigs in which they are found.
Mantids are voracious eaters, feeding on insects and other invertebrates, including other mantids. They may even catch small vertebrates, such as frogs. Mantids are sometimes used by gardeners, in place of chemical pesticides, to combat insect pests. Often the female eats the male after mating. The female lays 200 or more eggs contained in a papery case, usually attached to leaves or twigs. The young hatch as bright yellow nymphs (see metamorphosis), resembling the adults except for their smaller size and lack of wings.
Mantids are found in all warm regions of the world, and are especially numerous in the tropics. There are about 20 native species in the S and W United States, known regionally as devil's coach horses or mule killers. The commonest of the southern species is the Carolina mantid, Stagmomantis carolina, about 2 in. (5 cm) long. Two introduced species, the Praying mantis or European mantid, Mantis religiosa (about 2 in./5.1 cm long), and the Chinese mantid, Tenodera aridifolia (up to 4 in./10.2 cm long), are now common in many parts of the United States.
Mantids are classified in the phylum Arthropoda, class Insecta, order Mantodea, family Mantidae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.