All of us must have encountered mantises. They are attracted to light in the evening, flying in after the other smaller insects that come in seeking warmth. This would be a more common occurrence in rural areas or urban spaces with some greenery close by, than in urban spots devoid of any foliage. Many a times, they are confused to be grasshoppers while the truth is, mantises are not even remotely
related to them.
Mantises have an order of their own – Mantodea. There are more than 2,400 described species in the world, classified into 430 genera and divided into 15 families. Although they are similar in appearance to grasshoppers, stick insects and mantis-flies (owing to similarlooking front legs), mantises are actually related to termites and cockroaches.
Despite being highly diverse in terms of sizes and colours, all mantises have several common characteristics. A large, triangular head with two bulbous, compound eyes gives the mantises an alien-like look. Mantises have extremely flexible necks, and most species can rotate their heads 180 degrees on either side. The front legs are modified for grasping and are equipped with spikes. These legs are called raptorial legs. These
legs are held in a folded position in the front and the mantis appears to be in a praying position. It is this behavior that has given a common species of mantises its English and scientific name, namely the Praying Mantis or Mantis religiosa.
Mantises have excellent vision, thanks to their two, large compound eyes. Each eye has several thousand ommatidia (the hexagonal units in the compound eye, singular = ommatidium) and separate regions within the compound eyes for unique functions. The front region shows greater visual activity than the rest of the eye and creates high resolution images. This area is chiefly responsible for examining prey at close range. The replicas of adults, and are called nymphs.
Humans have been fascinated with mantises for a very long time. Mantises have been mentioned in ancient Chinese poems, some dating back to 3rd century BC! Along with Chinese, even the Greeks and Egyptians have mentioned mantises in their ancient works. The Chinese have even developed martial arts techniques based on the movements of the mantis. It was even given the status of God by several African tribes, as well as in ancient Egypt. More recently, a mantis was included in the animated movie series, Kung Fu Panda, as one of the masters of Kung Fu.
Over several millennia, mantises have fascinated poets, writers, dancers, fighters, painters and many more. So the next time you see a mantis, spend some time to marvel at this amazing creation of Mother Nature; who knows how the mantis might inspire you!