Mantids

Mantodea (= Mantoidea, Manteodea). Spanish: Mantidos, adivinadores (General); tata dios, mamboretás, comepiojos (Argentina); Santa Teresas (Peru). Portuguese: Louvas a Deus (Brazil). Preying mantids, praying mantids. Mantises.

Although many other orthopteroids take insects as food, they are basically vegetarian. The mantids, however, are all rapacious carnivores. The principal feature identifying them is their means of catching prey—the highly specialized, raptorial forelegs. The femur is large, carrying powerful and quick-acting muscles for closing the spined, grasping tibia against it, to form a vise from which escapes are few. Mantids wait in ambush for passing insect prey, often with their foreparts erect and foreleg segments closed and held in a praying position, for which they are called "praying mantids."

This and other humanoid behavior, such as the way they follow motion with their mobile, triangular heads and the large, "pupiled" eyes, has generated much folklore. Mantid means "soothsayer" or "diviner," and they are believed by some people to possess occult powers or to be worthy of being regarded as sacred. In Amazonia, the sex of an unborn child can be learned from a mantid placed nearby the expectant mother (poe mesa). If it just moves its forelegs, the infant will be female; if the insect jumps onto someone, a male can be expected (Lenko and Papa-vero 1979: 11-12)

Mantids are mostly fairly large (BWL 3-15 cm), with an elongate prothorax and otherwise slender body and walking legs. Adults usually bear full wings, although the females' wings are often abbreviated. They are cryptically colored in leafy greens and browns. The dead leaf mantid (Acan-thops faleatoria; fig. 5.11a) is a common

Figure 5.11 MANTIDS (MANTIOAE). (a) Dead leaf mantid (Acanthops falcataria). (b) Bark mantid (Liturgusa sp.). (c) Leaf mantid (Choeradodis rhombicollis). (d) Common mantid (Stagmotoptera sp.). (e) Horned mantid (Vates sp.).

example of the latter. It has broad, brown wings with the exact crinkly texture and twisted shape of a dead leaf. Others are marked with lichenose patterns and frequent tree trunks in moist forests, well camouflaged against the encrusted bark (e.g., Liturgusa; fig. 5.1 lb).

The leaf mantid (Choeradodis rhombicollis; fig. 5.11c) is unique in form (BWL 65-70 mm), the prothoracic dorsum being greatly expanded laterally to form a flat, rhomboid plate covering the head completely. The wings are wide and the whole depressed. With its green color and strongly veined wings, it looks incredibly like a living leaf.

Female mantids flood their eggs at the time they are laid with a whitish, frothy secretion from glands off the oviduct. They attach the mass to tree trunks, limbs, rocks, and other rigid substrata, often in very exposed situations. The secretion dries to form a hard, protective encasement for the eggs. Each species' case has its own characteristic shape.

Methods of defense employed by mantids have been well studied (Crane 1952, Robinson 1969). There are four general strategies: (1) resemblance to inanimate objects, including cryptic structural and color mimicry of leaves, sticks, bark, and so on, combined with stillness or swaying; (2) active flight, including dodging, jumping and dropping, threat and flying; (3) startling displays, consisting primarily of fac-•ng the enemy with wings raised and fore-legs splayed apart; and (4) active attack by striking with the forelegs. Some mantids have an imperfect eyespot in the middle of the hind wing. When the insect is molested, the wings are elevated and these spots threateningly displayed. Many also expose a dark marking on the inner surface of the fore femur when the legs are spread in a threat posture. Few adult mantids are involved in true mimicry complexes. In Belize, Mantoida maya nymphs, in their earliest stages, are very small and have the shape and attitude of Camponotus ants (Jackson and Drummond 1974).

The Neotropical Region is rich in its variety of mantids. The latest reviews (Beier 1933-1935, Giglio-Tos 1927) record approximately 300 species in some 74 genera. Many species certainly await discovery, and the group needs a comprehensive monograph. Some local reviews (e.g., Beebe et al. 1952) are helpful for the more common types. Dominant genera are Stagmomantis and Stagmotoptera (fig. 5.1 Id), which are large and usually green; Liturgusa, which are very common, small (BWL 2-3 cm), flattened forms that run actively on tree trunks; slender, sticklike Angela and Vates (fig. 5.1 le), which have a sharp spine on the forehead and leaflike flanges on the mid- and hind leg segments.

References

1952. An annotated list of the mantids

(Orthoptera, Mantoidea) of Trinidad, B.W.I.

Zoologica 37: 245-258, PI. I-VIII.

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