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12 Incredible Facts Most People Don't Know About Praying Mantises  

Aaron Edwards
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Sure, most people are afraid of spiders and other creepy insects. But no insect can match the amazing things the praying mantis can do. This is an insect so nightmarish (and yet, kinda cute), that it inspired a most memorable Rick and Morty scene. Standing several inches tall with massive mandibles and formidable pincers, the praying mantis is a one-insect death machine, willing to eat just about anything.

In fact, the creature is so feared that many rumors have been spread about its eating habits. Chief among them is females cannibalize their mates immediately after sex. There are plenty of crazy praying mantis facts - including the fact that it's a sexual cannibal. So, if you're curious about our new insect overlords - or you just want to ensure you never experience any praying mantis bites - here are some incredible things praying mantises can do. 

The Mantis Is A Nightmare Hunting Machine That Can Eat Small Lizards And Mammals
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Photo:  Luc Viatour/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

It's pretty obvious judging from those claws, but the praying mantis can catch and eat a wide variety of insects. Its usual diet includes typical critters such as bees, moths, beetles, and crickets. Those who have mantises as pets typically love feeding them fruit flies. In the wild, however, bigger mantises have been known to hunt and kill small birds, lizards, and mammals. The mantis usually likes to be still and wait for its prey to approach before rushing forward with a quick, decisive strike.

They Can See A Lot Of Things - Including In 3-D
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Photo: Wikimedia Commons/GFDL 1.2

Praying mantises have amazing sight. First of all, they can turn their heads 180 degrees, which gives them a huge range in which to scan their surroundings. But even more interesting is that praying mantises can actually see in 3-D. A study was done at Newcastle University where they hung a mantis upside down, put tiny 3-D goggles on it, and played a 3-D movie. It reacted in a way that proved it could indeed tell exactly what was happening in the film. As awesome as that is, they still can't see the color red very well. Go figure.

Females Only Eat Males After Sex Some Of The Time
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Photo:  Oliver Koemmerling/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

You've probably heard about the cannibalism that takes place right after two praying mantises have sex. The female eats the male, then goes off to lay her eggs. Well, that's not entirely true. The frequency of this grim practice has been a bit overstated. It only happens about 13-28% of the time.

So why do they do this at all? Scientists theorized females who ate their sex partners actually laid more eggs. As it turned out, the males furnished their partners with many important amino acids when eaten. This helps nourish both mommy mantis and her fertilized eggs. They found cannibalistic females produced 88 successful eggs, whereas non-cannibals produced 37. 

They Can Get Pretty Big
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Photo:  Sirab/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

There are, of course, many species of praying mantis that come in all shapes and sizes. The smallest species gets to be about .5 inches long, while the largest is 6 inches long. The biggest of the bunch are Chinese praying mantises, which were introduced into the US in 1896 to burn harmful bug populations. Sometimes these big boys can be spotted up to 40 feet away - a pretty amazing feat for an insect.