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An Up-Close Look at Praying Mantises

Praying mantises are a common insect in Illinois, but their excellent camouflage means we often don’t see them even when they are near. 

praying mantis
Photo via Shutterstock

Praying mantises live in grasses and trees all around us, maybe even in your own backyard, but we don’t usually see them because their camouflage keeps them hidden.

A praying mantis is an insect. All insects have three body parts: a head, a body called a thorax and an abdomen, which is the back end of the insect. All insects also have long, thin “feelers” on their heads called antennae, wings and three pairs of legs.

Fun facts

  • Praying mantises are carnivores, which means they eat other insects instead of grasses and leaves. Sometimes they even eat animals bigger than they are, like frogs, lizards and birds. And they also have been known to eat other praying mantises.

  • Praying mantises are usually green or brown, which makes them hard to see on trees and in grass. Their long, skinny bodies helps them to even look like leaves or twigs and to blend into their surroundings.

  • In Illinois, we see praying mantises most often in September and October. This isn’t because there are more of them at that time of year. We can just see them better as the leaves on the trees start to change color and fall off.

  • Praying mantises got their name because they look like they are praying. They have long front legs, so it looks like they are bent or kneeling to pray.

  • More than 2,300 different kinds of praying mantises live in the world, but only two kinds live in Illinois: the Carolina praying mantis and the Chinese praying mantis.

  • Praying mantises are good hunters. They have sharp spikes on their legs to help them catch their food, and they can turn their head very far to help them see.


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