What Do Praying Mantis Eat?

Written by Patrick Sather
Updated: November 13, 2022
Image Credit Galuh M/Shutterstock.com
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Key Points:

  • If you take care of them correctly, a pet mantis can be a long-lived companion.
  • Mantises have great vision, which allows them to catch their food.
  • They primarily eat other insects.

Of all the orders of insects, few are as captivating or deadly as the mantises. Mantises are insects belonging to the order Mantodea, which includes around 2,400 species. Their closest relatives include termites and cockroaches. You can find them throughout the world, although they primarily live in tropical or temperate habitats. They also go by the name praying mantis due to their upright posture and folded forearms. These forelegs are large and powerful, which helps a mantis to catch prey. Many people also associate them with boxers, as they look as if they have their arms raised in a fighter’s stance. Some early civilizations revered mantises and considered them to possess special powers. Due to their interesting appearance and unique behavior, people often keep these insects as pets. Given their popularity and the intrigue surrounding mantises, it begs the question, “what do praying mantis eat?” 

In this article, we’ll attempt to put this question to bed by examining the diet of the praying mantis. We’ll start by exploring what praying mantises like to eat. Then we’ll discuss how they find and hunt for food. Next, we’ll compare what praying mantises eat in the wild versus what they eat as pets. Finally, we’ll end with a brief discussion about what baby praying mantises eat. Without further ado, let’s go and answer the question “what do praying mantises eat?”

What Do Praying Mantises Like to Eat?

Praying mantises will eat just about anything they can catch including insects, birds, and fish.

A-Z-Animals.com

Praying mantises are carnivores, meaning that they predominantly eat other animals. Generally speaking, they mostly prey on other arthropods. While they mostly eat prey smaller than themselves, praying mantises are generalist hunters. On occasion, they will also attack larger prey, including some that are larger than them in terms of length and weight. The diet of a praying mantis will vary depending on the environment it lives in and the prey that is available. In addition, larger species of mantises will have access to more food compared to smaller species. Given these differences, an exhaustive list of all the foods that mantises eat would be quite long. That said, there is some common prey that most mantises frequently target. As such, we’ve collected a list of 10 foods that praying mantises like to eat. These foods that praying mantises usually like to eat include: 

  • Insects
  • Bugs
  • Spiders
  • Worms
  • Larvae
  • Small mammals
  • Birds
  • Small reptiles
  • Small amphibians
  • Fish

How Do Praying Mantises Hunt For Food? 

Animals that use mimicry – mantis
Though their bulging eyes and triangular heads make them stand out, the mantis is capable of blending into the foliage to ensnare prey or protect themselves from predators.

Ondrej Prosicky/Shutterstock.com

While praying mantises possess similar senses as humans, they rely on some more than others to find food. In particular, mantises mostly rely on their amazing sense of sight to locate prey. Unlike most other insects, praying mantises have 5 forward-facing eyes. Their binocular 3D vision, known as stereopsis, enables them to detect depth and distance effectively. This ability aids them greatly in their hunt for prey. Meanwhile, the rest of their senses aren’t nearly as well developed. Mantises mostly use their sense of smell to help them detect the pheromones of power mantises. Additionally, their sense of hearing is not used to find prey, but rather to avoid predators. For example, they can use their ear to detect the echolocation sounds of bats, a common mantis predator. Finally, praying mantises rely on their sensitive antennae for touch, while their sense of taste is less well developed. 

By and large, praying mantises are ambush hunters that rely on stealth to catch their prey unawares. You’ve likely seen a praying mantis standing very still with its arms raised up in a fighter’s stance. Mantises adopt this posture to confuse other animals into thinking that they’re simply a wayward stick. They’re aided in this by their natural camouflage, with many species appearing light green, brown, or gray. Once its target gets close enough, a praying mantis will then lunge forward rapidly. It will grab its target with its spiny forelegs, then pull it in close before proceeding to eat its prey alive. That said, some mantises opt to use a different tactic when hunting. For example, some ground mantises will run after their prey and chase them down. Ground mantises usually live in dry, arid climates where there is less tree cover, which explains this adaptation. 

What Do Praying Mantises Eat in the Wild?

Do Praying Mantises Bite
Praying mantises will even eat other mantises, especially during the mating season.

Warren Parker/Shutterstock.com

The types of food that praying mantises eat in the wild varies depending on the habitat where they live. Given that mantises live on every continent except Antarctica, they have access to a wide amount of prey. However, there is some common prey that mantises will frequently target. Overall, insects make up the bulk of a praying mantis’s diet. They eat many different types of insects, including both flying and ground-dwelling species. Some examples include crickets, grasshoppers, butterflies, moths, spiders, and beetles. Smaller species and young specimens will target things like aphids, leafhoppers, mosquitoes, and caterpillars. Mantises will also eat worms, grubs, and insect larvae. Large species are also capable of taking down larger prey. They will eat small frogs, lizards, snakes, and mice. Additionally, some species will attack and eat small birds and fish. On occasion, they will even eat other mantises, especially after mating. 

What Do Pet Praying Mantises Eat?

Apex predator: praying mantis
Pray mantises have been known to eat mice, lizards, and even snakes.

Ryzhkov Oleksandr/Shutterstock.com

Praying mantises make popular pets due to their relatively long lives and interesting behaviors. If you keep a pet praying mantis, you’ll want to feed it a balanced diet. Generally speaking, mantises prefer to eat live prey. As such, live insects are going to make up the bulk of a pet mantis’s diet. As a best practice, live food should be removed from a mantis’s tank if not eaten within an hour. Crickets and grasshoppers will make up the bulk of a pet mantis’s diet. However, if your pet mantis is small or quite young, you can start it off on aphids, fruit flies, and other tiny prey. Meanwhile, larger insects can also eat things like cockroaches, beetles, and flies. Although some people feed their pet mantis raw meat, this is not recommended. When it comes to mantis diets, you’re best to stick with foods they eat in the wild. 

What Do Baby Praying Mantises Eat?

Orchid mantis
Baby praying mantises – or nymphs – usually prey on aphids, leafhoppers, and fruit flies.

iStock.com/phittavas

Also known as nymphs, baby pet mantises tend to eat smaller insects than adult mantises. As soon as they’re born, nymphs are able to hunt for their own food. They quickly set out on their own, as they are at risk of getting eaten by their own mother if they stick around too long. Baby mantises will eat just about anything they can catch, which includes other mantises. Some of the most common foods eaten by baby mantises include aphids, leafhoppers, and fruit flies. On average, a baby mantis will eat around once every 3 to 4 days. As a mantis grows older, it will be able to accommodate larger food. If you have questions about what to feed your pet mantis, check with your local exotic pet store expert or veterinarian. 

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Do Praying Mantises Bite
Do Praying Mantises Bite
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