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Mantids: Mantodea

Physical Characteristics

Mantids are fairly large insects, ranging in length from 0.4 to 6.7 inches (1 to 17 centimeters). The green, brown, or gray body color of mantids serves as camouflage to protect them from predators that hunt them for food. Species living in grasslands and meadows are usually pale yellowish brown or light green. Mantids found in leaf litter tend to be dark brown, while those found on or near flowers are yellow, white, pink, or light green.

Mantids are easily recognized by their large and spiny front legs held out in front of their bodies as if they were in prayer. The head is usually distinctive and triangular in shape. A few species have a single horn on the head. They have both well-developed compound eyes, each with hundreds of lenses, and three simple eyes, each with only one lens. The chewing mouthparts are usually directed downward. The antennae (an-TEH-nee), or sense organs, are long and threadlike. The head is attached to a very thin, flexible neck and is capable of turning nearly all the way around.

The first part of the midsection, or thorax, is usually long and slender and bears the raptorial (rap-TOR-ee-all), or grasping, front legs. The front legs are armed with one or two rows of short, sharp spines used to stab and hold prey, or food animals, securely. The remaining four legs are mostly long and slender. Mantids usually have four wings. The front wings, or forewings, are slightly thickened and have very fine veins. The hind wings are fanlike in shape and are carefully folded beneath the forewings. Most adult mantids have a single "ear" located on their underside, in the middle of the thorax near the abdomen. The ten-segmented abdomen is tipped with a pair of short, segmented projections.

Males are typically smaller than females, sometimes only half their size. They generally have larger simple eyes and longer and thicker antennae than females, and their bodies are lighter and more slender. Their abdomens are completely covered by the folded wings. In females the abdomen is not quite covered by the wings. Mantids' closest relatives are cockroaches and, to a lesser degree, termites. Mantids are sometimes grouped together in another order with these insects.

Additional topics

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