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THE PRAYING MANTIS

THE PRAYING MANTIS

Mantis Religiosa

The praying mantis is a medium-sized insect of 4 to 6 cm, with a long thorax and thin antennae. It has two compound eyes and three single eyes between them. Its head can turn up to 180º. Its font legs have spines in order to better hold prey. They are solitary insects until the male and female seek each other to mate. When there is more than one male, they fight and only one can reproduce. On rare occasions, the female eats the male when mating.

They can be green or brown. Its color as an adult is determined by the environment in which it lives at the time of its last molting. The praying mantis only has one ear, located in its thorax. It takes a year for a praying mantis to reach adulthood, during which it molts 6 times.

They hunt on the prowl. The praying mantis remains motionless until prey appears. It observes its prey, turns its head and then launches the attack, front legs holding the victim as the praying mantis begins to eat it. It can even capture flies in flight. It feeds mainly on frogs, lizards, rats, moths and humming birds. In the mating season, the female secretes pheromones that attract the male. When they mate, females are aggressive and sometimes eat the male during or after the act. The mating lasts an hour or two, during which the male goes around the female until it jumps on its back and puts its antennae in contact with the female's, depositing the spermatophore inside the female. The eggs are laid in fall and hatch in spring. It lays its eggs in foamy mounds (oothecae), which it then ties to twigs. The foam hardens quickly, protecting the eggs until they hatch. Each sack can hold between 200 and 300 eggs, but few survive the juvenile cannibalism that reigns among them. Those too slow to escape their siblings perish, decreasing the birth rate.

The relationship between praying mantis and human being has been a contradictory one in that on one hand, the insect is seen with curiosity and admiration, and on the other, mistrust and fear. In Spain, generally popular culture has mistaken the praying mantis for a dangerous and poisonous insect, despite the fact that it is totally harmless and can even be beneficial to humans as it devours a large number of other insects. In some municipalities, the praying mantis is called vernacular names like "death" or "little horse of the devil," which reveal these negative preconceptions. These names contrast with the religious significance of its scientific and common name, which alludes to that position in which it seems the insect is praying when in fact, it is stalking its prey.