Give or take an inch
As regular readers will know, we’ve featured the praying mantis several times here on Environmental Graffiti. But today we’re not interested in these creatures’ ferociousness as predators or their alien appearance; instead, we want to take a look at the early part of their life cycle – their childhood development, so to speak. What do praying mantis babies look like, how tiny are they and how dangerous are they as predators?
Image: Michael Gallegos
All young mantids start their life as a frothy egg mass called ootheca. Depending on the species, mantis females lay from 10-400 eggs after their mating season in the fall. They wrap the eggs in this frothy mass, produced by glands in their abdomen. The ootheca can be attached to a flat surface, deposited in the ground or wrapped around a plant.
Image: Omar de Armas
There’s something between my fingers
From the very beginning, mantises are well protected as the froth hardens and thus forms a protective capsule around the eggs, somewhat like a cocoon. A protective coat insulates it further so that the eggs can withstand the winter.
Image: Benjamin Gray
Easy rider – mantis baby on motor cycle handlebar
Warmer weather in the spring is an indicator for the mantis babies that it is time to come out. If you ever find mantis eggs outside during winter, don’t take them inside as this early warmth would trigger the mantis babies to come out too soon, when not enough food is available. If that happens, mantid babies are known to eat anything in their path, and often their first meal is a sibling.
Spot on – one day old mantis baby
Like many insects, mantises go through three stages of metamorphosis: egg, nymph and adult stage. Changes from nymph to adult are gradual though and there’s no pupa stage like in the case of butterflies for example. This incomplete metamorphosis is also called hemimetabolism.
Let us out – commercial egg container
Young mantids will go through various stages of moulting, five to ten times depending on the species, before reaching adult appearance. They do this by replacing their outer body covering with a sturdy, flexible exoskeleton and usually increase in size each time.
Image: Jinjian Liang
Looking like a cross between a grasshopper and a spider – for now
This growing period can take the whole summer and a good chunk of the mantis’ life as the lifespan of a mantis in the wild is about 10–12 months; slightly longer in captivity. Though the nymphs often resemble adults, their colouration may be different and they lack wings and functional reproductive organs.
And that answers our questions – though tiny, praying mantis babies are voracious eaters that go for anything their own size or smaller. And with all that shedding going on, their teenage phase seems at least as awkward as it is for humans – only faster.
For more awesome praying mantis photos, click on the link.