Praying mantids are often confused with stick insects (Order Phasmatodea) but they are very different. Mantids are strictly carnivores with specialised front legs for capturing prey. Stick insects are vegetarians with simple front legs.
Mantids are a small group of insects with around 200 Australian species. Many lurk among the leaves of bushes and trees, or in grasses on the ground. But even large species are often overlooked because they are masters of camouflage. Australia also has many species of small grey or black mantids that live on tree trunks.
A large species of Hierodula from north Queensland eating a moth firmly grasped in its specialised front legs.
Species of Gyromantis live on tree trunks.
Praying mantids can be identified by their specialised raptorial front legs that are modified for capturing prey. When the forelegs close, the prey is impaled on rows of interlocking spines on two of the segments.
Mantids have large, widely spaced eyes that, combined with a head than can swivel 180 degrees, give them excellent vision.
The forewings are leathery with the fragile fluted hind wings folded beneath. The wings are held flat over the abdomen. Adult males normally have fully developed wings that are capable of flight. Depending on the species, adult females may also be fully winged, have short wings or have no wings at all.
Mantid lacewings are not closely related to mantids but look very similar because they also have raptorial front legs. Mantid lacewings differ by having fore and hind wings that are similar to each other and that are held roof-like over the abdomen.
Some mantids have long-winged males that can fly, while the females, like this one in Metoxypilus, have reduced wings, and cannot fly.
All praying mantids are predators. They use their spiny front legs to capture and hold prey which they consume alive. Insects and spiders are their normal victims, but large species sometimes capture lizards and frogs. Praying Mantids are sit-and-wait predators, relying on camouflage to escape detection from prey animals that venture within their reach.
Unlike popular belief, male mantids are not always eaten by the female after they mate. This happens in a few species and probably only at certain times. Female mantids deposit their eggs in a mass surrounded by a foamy secretion that dries to a papery texture. The egg mass can contain between 10 and 400 eggs depending on the species. Mantids undergo gradual metamorphosis, passing through a number of nymphal stages.
Praying mantids have gruesome table manners. A species of Hierodula eats its moth prey alive.
Mantids deposit their eggs in a mass surrounded by a papery coating.