Carolina mantis. Photo by Rebekah D. Wallace, University of Georgia,

May 1, 2023

Understanding and Appreciating Backyard Wildlife: Praying Mantises

Praying mantises were appropriately named because of their sometimes-stationary upright posture with their forearms folded. They often look right at you with their large eyes, making finding and holding one a somewhat personal experience. Praying mantises live only about a year. Often less than a year for a male because the female sometimes kills and eats the male after copulation—often decapitating the male even before the act is completed.

Three photos in a row of green praying mantises perched on sticks. The middle praying mantis is eating a green and black grasshopper.
Left: Carolina Mantis. Photo by Sturgis McKeever, Georgia Southern University, Middle: European mantis. Photo by Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, Right: Chinese mantis. Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University,

Praying mantises’ camouflaged colorations of greens, grays and browns make them difficult to find. However, it helps them in catching prey—insects and spiders for the most part. On occasion larger mantises take small frogs. Mantises lay in wait and ambush prey. At other times, they pursue their next meal. Because praying mantises have such voracious appetites for insects and spiders, they are considered beneficial creatures to have policing your garden.

A small brown, dried foam blob-like egg case attached to a dried plant stem in a prairie. In the background are tall brown grasses and vegetation.
Praying mantis egg cases are called ootheca (oh-a-thigh-kah). The tan-and-brown striped Carolina mantis ootheca is slender and elongated, up to 1 inch in length. The ootheca of the Chinese mantis also is tan but is round and about the size of a ping-pong ball. The European mantis ootheca resembles that of the native Carolina mantis but is about twice as large. Above is a chinese mantis egg case. Photo by Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University,

Mantises are insects in the order Mantodea. Illinois has only one native mantis species, the Carolina mantis, which is found in the southern two-thirds of Illinois. Adult Carolina mantis (Stagmomantis carolina) reach only 2 to 2 ½ inches in length.

The most common species found in Illinois, the Chinese mantis (Tenodera sinensis), is an exotic species, introduced near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1897. This species many be up to 5 inches long. Spread of the Chinese mantis across the United States occurred through the transportation of egg cases.

A third species, the European mantis (Mantis religiosa) was first found in Rochester, New York, in 1899. An adult European mantis is about 3 inches long.

Robert J. Reber is an emeritus faculty member in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He has been a lifelong student of many aspects of the Natural World, including archaeology. Reber has served as a managing editor and author for publications such as The Illinois Steward magazine and the Illinois Master Naturalist Curriculum Guide.

Share and enjoy!

Submit a question for the author

Question: All summer long it seems as though this one praying mantis would always land near me. Every time I was outside. We live on a farm south of Springfield about 20 miles in Montgomery county. This morning I came out and found her attached to an empty grass flower bed. I had placed next to the front door to move down into the basement. Her dried up body nearly made me cry. For the first time in 35 years, I broke down and sprayed the perimeter of the house with tempo because of the spider bites. (I don’t usually kill spiders… I normally just “live in peace” except for the big hairy ones that I don’t like one bit!) but back to the praying mantis… As I gently moved, her body someplace more respectful of what I think she meant to me, all the sudden larvae started crawling out. I’ve never witnessed anything like this. I grabbed my iPhone and took pictures out of fascination. Only another bug enthusiast would probably find the least bit interesting, but I took mini pictures. And then I picked up the larvae very gently to move them to the ground next to the cement porch, where I’m sure they were bury in and find all sorts of insects to sustain them during the winter.(I didn’t spray that part of the foundation). Would you like for me to upload a few pictures? Probably already have all the pictures that you need. But as I was reading about how best to care for these larvae, and I stumbled on your site, I thought I might ask. Thank you for reading this very long message!

Question: I’ve been told that all non-native mantids should be killed when found because they prey on hummingbirds. Any truth to that? We find mantids in our prairie and I love them but I also love my hummingbirds–