Praying mantids are a group of over 2500 carnivorous insects distributed in a wide variety of environments, from deserts to tropical rain forests. Their name derives from the fact that they look like they are praying when stationary. However, do not be fooled – these are fearsome predators and can kill prey that is much larger than them.
African praying mantids are usually green. However, colour is affected by their environment, so brown-beige varieties are more typical in Namibia. Females are larger than males. They have very mobile triangular heads that can turn 180° & compound eyes that allow excellent visual awareness. This enables them to strike prey with great speed and accuracy. They have powerful forelegs with razor-like spikes that help catch and grasp their prey
They use camouflage to blend into their surroundings, making it easier to ambush unsuspecting prey. They often lie in wait for long periods of time to allow prey to get close enough for them to launch an attack. They then lunge with lightning speed and capture their prey with their spiky forelegs. After eating their victims, they lick their bodies clean in a nearly cat-like manner.
Mantids have enormous appetites. They eat a variety of insects including crickets, flies, grasshoppers and moths. Larger species may even eat frogs, lizards, and rodents.
Males have to be careful when mating – if they are not on top, the females have a tendency to start eating them either during or after copulation (although this behaviour is more normal in captivity than in the wild). Amazingly, even if a male is decapitated, it continues to copulate until the act has been completed. Females lay eggs in a protective case called an ootheca. Once they hatch, the young do not have wings & so can be mistaken for ants. They disperse quickly to avoid cannibalism. They moult numerous times before reaching adult size.
In San cultures, the praying mantis is an important mythical figure as /Kaggen, one of the first beings of the world, often takes the form of a praying mantis.