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Connecticut State Insect Lesson: The European Mantis

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Connecticut's state insect is the European mantis. It was designated in 1972 and is one of many of mantis species that are distributed across the United States, and around the world. This article tells you what you need to know about this amazing insect.

The European Mantis's Scientific Name

Connecticut's state insect is a kind of mantis, which are fascinating predatory creatures that grab and devour other insects. Mantises comprise the order Mantodea, a large group that includes all of the world's many mantis species of. Within that group, the European mantis belongs to the family Mantidae. Its full scientific name is Mantis religiosa. This means it belongs to the genus Mantis, and its species name is religiosa. The species name reflects the way these insects carry their front legs, folded as if in prayer.

As a middle school teacher myself, I wrote this guide to be useful for both students and teachers. It's a great place to start for research ideas and science fair projects!

The amazing European mantis

The amazing European mantis

"Preying" Versus "Praying"

When I was a young boy growing up in Midwestern farm country, mantises were fairly common -- we would find them in late summer lurking around outside the house. These were really impressive insects almost 6 inches long. We handled them with care, because it wasn't unheard of for them to grab or try to nip your finger. We would often keep them in a cage or jar, and feed them crickets. Watching a mantis stalk, grab, and devour its prey was not for the faint of heart, but it did make them pretty fascinating pets.

I always assumed the correct name was "preying," because they preyed on pretty much everything around (they were particularly hard on crickets and moths). However this is wrong; the correct name is "praying mantis," so-named for the way they hold their raptorial legs in front of their body as if they're in prayer.

Make sure you take the Quiz at the end of this article before you leave!

Get to Know the European Mantis

The state insect of Connecticut is among the most identifiable of all insects. They have a distinct form, with an elongated body and raptorial front legs – "raptorial" means they're used for grabbing prey. Mantises are also famous for being the only insect than can look over their shoulder. With their large eyes and generally curious expression, mantises are perhaps the most charismatic insect out there.

Mating and Egg-Laying Behaviors

European mantis females, like nearly all insects, mate once and then lay their eggs in a suitable environment. However, most mantis species have a very specific strategy for making sure their eggs are safe and protected from predators. The female mantis deposits her eggs in a foamy mass that quickly hardens into a tough, weather-resistant protective housing for the eggs inside. The mass typically overwinters, and in the spring the tiny baby mantises all hatch out at the same time. They disperse and begin to seek out prey, and will grow over the summer.

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The Mantis Life-Cycle

Mantises do not undergo complete metamorphosis, like butterflies, beetles, and other kinds of insects. Instead, the tiny mantis that hatches out of the egg mass in the spring looks almost exactly like it will as an adult, only much smaller. Immature praying mantises are called "nymphs," and they have the same sharp, raptorial forelegs and fierce predatory nature of the adult they will grow up to be; one of the few real differences is that immature mantises do not have functioning wings.

This cycle of development is known as "incomplete metamorphosis." There are many varieties of incomplete metamorphosis; dragonflies, for example, undergo a similar process but live underwater as nymphs before they shed their skin for a final time and emerge with wings and amazing flight skills.

Cannibalism

Cannibalism is one of the praying mantis's more disturbing habits. Sometimes (but not always) after mating, the female will suddenly seize her partner with her raptorial legs and eat him alive. There are a few other instances of this in the animal kingdom -- black widow spiders, for example -- but in a large insect like a mantis, with its intelligent face and graceful form, it seems just a little more sinister. Despite this, it's still honored as the state insect of Connecticut.

A Mediterranean mantis in threat posture

A Mediterranean mantis in threat posture

Students – Can You Pass This Quiz?

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. What do mantises eat?
    • Sugar
    • Leaves
    • Other insects
    • None of the above
  2. True or False: Mantises are very rare insects.
    • True
    • False
  3. True or False: Mantises can fly.
    • True
    • False
  4. Where do praying mantises live?
    • In very small areas of Europe
    • Only in South America
    • Around the world
    • None of these
  5. How many legs does a praying mantis have?
    • 4
    • 6
    • 8
    • 10

Answer Key

  1. Other insects
  2. False
  3. True
  4. Around the world
  5. 6

Check Out These Other State Insect Articles on Owlcation!

Resources

The following sources were used for this article:

Mantis Facts

Treehugger mantis facts

National Geographic

Ducksters (for kids)

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Comments

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on January 28, 2021:

The insect is specific the praying mantis.

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