Native or Non-Native Praying Mantis? All Three Live on Fishers Island

Left: Carolina Mantis (native); Middle: European Mantis (non-native); Right: Chinese Mantis (non-native), Dianne Crary Photo

True or false: It is illegal to kill a praying mantis. False. In spite of this erroneous myth, it is not a good idea to kill a praying mantis on Fishers Island, since both native and non-native species live here, and it is important to know the difference.

The invasive Chinese praying mantis is the largest mantis in North America and the most visible mantis on Fishers Island. It can grow to over four inches. Mantises are formidable predators. They eat everything they can subdue and do not distinguish between harmful or beneficial insects, preying on bees, ladybugs, moths, spiders, crickets, grasshoppers, as well as frogs, lizards, snakes and even birds. Ruby-throated hummingbirds are their favored bird target, but mantises will also go after warblers, sunbirds, honeyeaters, flycatchers and vireos.

The female praying mantis is a voracious eater and is known to attack and eat the smaller male while mating. Some scientists think that this activity is exaggerated, as it happens more frequently in a laboratory than in the wild. The female dies after laying eggs, which will hatch in the spring.

Mantises can turn their heads 180 degrees to scan their surroundings with two large compound eyes and three simple eyes. They are efficient and ruthless hunters. In May, a graphic video went viral, showing a praying mantis chewing through the entire head of a so-called Asian “murder” hornet.

The praying mantis is named for its prominent (and powerful) front legs, which are bent and held together at an angle that suggests the position of prayer. Their closest relatives are termites and cockroaches. Unfortunately, egg cases of Chinese praying mantises are available on the Internet as an “organic” way of controlling insect garden pests.