Well, really just one alien. And it’s actually on my door, not at it. And it’s been here in the states for so long… Is it really still an alien? Maybe I should explain.
This alien looking critter in the image is the Chinese Mantis, Tenodera sinensis (family= Mantidae, order= Mantodea). It followed me in the front door the other day. Technically, it’s actually an alien species here in North America, as its originally from Asia. But, BUT, it was first introduced to eastern North America way back in 1896. So the species has been here for over a hundred years! There are a number of other mantis species native to North America, like the Carolina Mantis, Stagmomantis carolina, but the Chinese Mantis is one of the most common mantis species found in many eastern states. And with so much time here, there have been hundreds, if not thousands, of generations of new baby mantids produced. So is it still actually an alien? For humans, if you’re 18 years old and have been a permanent resident for 5 years you are considered “naturalized” according to the US government (assuming you’ve done the required paperwork of course). It would certainly seem that the Chinese Mantis would qualify as naturalized based on time… Although I’m guessing the species probably never filled out any requisite paperwork lol. Ok, now I have the image in my head of a mantis trying to hold a pen…
Last fall I found a couple of mantis egg sacs, or ootheca (pronounced “oo-oo-thee-ca”) on my garden boxes. I thought for sure my garden would have a ton of these alien looking critters hunting in the garden this year. But you know what? I haven’t seen a single mantis in my garden. I’ve found them on a tree across the way and have lost count of how many times I’ve stopped the mower to move one or two at a time out of the mower’s path, but have yet to see one in my garden. And yes, I am totally that crazy person that stops the mower for every critter that crosses in front of it… Mantids, bees, snakes, frogs, damselflies… I do usually let the tiny crickets and spiders fend for themselves, but I stop for an awful lot… Definitely adds to the overall mowing time lol, but I just don’t want to run them over.
Mantids are a type of ambush predator, like the Jagged Ambush Bugs I wrote about the other day. This means they sit silently, pretending to be part of the plant… Patiently waiting… and then POUNCE! with their raptorial fore legs (the spikey grabby looking things they hold in front of them) to grab anything smaller than themselves. And I do mean anything smaller than themselves. Chinese Mantids are the largest mantids found in North America and can get up to almost 5 inches long (although I’m pretty sure the adults I’ve seen here have really been more like 6-7 inches long – really need to start carrying a ruler). So when I say they eat anything smaller than themselves, I mean anything. Bugs, flies, bees, butterflies, dragonflies, other mantids, you name it. There are even reports of them eating small lizards and humming birds 😢 Hopefully I never see them do that, but everything has to eat.
Thankfully, humans are too big for the Chinese Mantis to eat. They actually can’t really bite people either since their mouths are pretty small. The spines on their fore legs can be a bit sharp though, like some large beetle’s legs, and give a bit of a pinch if they grab you. So don’t stick your finger in front of them and wiggle it around like a worm… Yes, I’m talking to you other bug nerds out there…
Because the Chinese Mantis is such a good predator, and because it is a very broad generalist predator at that (aka eats anything it can catch), there is concern about it affecting native species populations. I believe scientists who work with these guys are still trying to fully determine the impacts though (no small feat since they’ve been here so long!), so that may be a story for another time. And in the meantime, I will keep rescuing the mantids from the mower, but refrain from introducing more from other areas…
As it turns out, it appears I actually have both the Chinese Mantid and the European Mantis, Mantis religiosa, living on my property! The European Mantis, frequently called the Praying Mantis, as you may have guessed, is also a North American non-native and is originally from Europe. While not endangered in the US, since it’s not even from here, the Praying Mantis is considered endangered in Germany. I didn’t even realize I had both of them until looking through my photos for this story. See the little white and blue bulls eye looking thing on the inside of the fore legs? That’s a key characteristic for telling the European Mantis from the Chinese Mantis - even when they’re not yet full grown :)
One last fun fact: Did you know full grown mantids have wings?? You rarely see them fly, but most could if they wanted to!
To read more about the Chinese Mantis check out these resources:
Want to see a mantis eating a cricket? Check out this video of me feeding one of my resident Chinese Mantids. I apologize in advance for the quality - it was a very windy day and I haven’t managed to find one (and have it stay put long enough!) to feed since.
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Alan Sept 07, 2021, 2:04 PM
Great article on Chinese ‘alien’ mantids.
I have been bitten by an adult female Carolina mantis. I was very interested in mantids as early as the 4th-5th grade, about 1959-60. I caught and kept a few during several years, about until the time I took more interest in girls (they bite, too! Lol).
The bite occurred on the playground, where I came across several guys and girls taunting a female Carolina mantis with sticks. They were about to kill it until I stepped in to catch it. She was already irritated evidenced by her closely held front legs and wings partially unfolded. When I picked her up she BIT my hand with her mandibles. No pain really, but it startled me 😱 as I had never been bit before after holding many mantids. I believe I released her over past the playground fence where other classmates couldn’t get to her.
This was in Bossier City, Louisiana.
Bug News Sept 07, 2021, 4:39 PM
Yep, normally they are very docile and will let you hold them (or just try to run away if they are not in the mood). Like so many critters though (humans included!), mantids can lash out when scared and give you a bit of nip with those crazy spikey fore legs. I'm so glad you could save the mantis from those mean kids! Doubly glad the bite received while saving her didn't make you fearful of these amazing creatures.
Thank you for sharing your story!
Alan Sept 07, 2021, 5:08 PM
Just to confirm, the Carolina mantis actually bit with her mandibles! Not her spiky forelegs! Being young my skin was soft enough for her to get a tiny piece of skin in her mandibles. Barely felt it but it SURPRISED me!
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