THEME UNIT AGES 11-13
The Praying Mantis Theme Outcomes:
Science, English, Mathematics, Art, Technology, Society and Environment.
Science: scientific names, facts, sizes, behaviour, mating, food
English: reading, writing and research skills
Mathematics: converting cm - inches, calculating within a timeframe, calculations
Art: drawing, sketching, using colour techniques, proportion
Technology: computer skills, Internet skills, research skills, photography skills
Society and Environment: ecology, learn to control garden pests, general knowledge, mantis social behaviour
Read about the praying mantis before completing any activities at the bottom of this page.
The praying mantis, also known as the praying mantid is definitely the most recognizable member of the insect kingdom. It is often believed that this creature only kills 'harmful' insects but this is not true.
The mantis does not care if it has a honey bee or any other garden pest for breakfast. It does not discriminate! The mantis is a very useful insect to have in your garden. Even though they eat the occasional good insect they are of more use than harm in the garden.
There are about 1800 mantis species worldwide. Two species are found widely in the USA, the Chinese mantis 8-13cm (3-5 inches) long and the native Carolina mantis, 5cm (2 inches) long.
It has been a problem for Scientists to classify these insects of the family Mantidae. Some group them with grasshoppers in the order Dictyoptera while others put them in an order (group) of their own - Mantodea.
The mantis has compound eyes with hundreds of individual optical elements known as facets. This design gives the mantis an almost 'all round' view, is excellent for close-up and distant vision and is also sensitive to detect motion.
If the mantis is hunting for food, both eyes will focus on the same target which is extremely effective for tracking small and fast objects like a fly for example.
When catching prey, the mantis turns its head therewith bending tiny hairs at the side of the head causing a message to be sent to the central nervous system which relays a signal to the forelegs about the distance and size of the victim. This in turn allows for precision in deciding the range and time at which to strike.
Did you know that the mantis can snatch a passing fly from the air? The mantis will eat only fresh (live) insects and it will clean and groom itself thoroughly, like a cat.
Sometimes the female mantis gets very hungry and will eat the male while mating. Such behaviour is also known as 'sexual cannibalism'. For a long time Scientists believed that mating cannibalism was necessary for the mantis species to survive but careful scientific research has now shown that this is not so. The male mantis can mate several times and he certainly will avoid any hungry females if he can.
When mating begins the male mantis follows an elaborate multi-step dance-like ritual that can last a couple of hours. At times, he will freeze on the spot and keep his position for some time.
When the female mantis gives him the go-ahead, he jumps onto her. Sometimes the male misses but the female will cooperate until he gets into the correct mating position. Mating can take hours.
After mating, the female mantis will deposit a foamy egg case on a twig and lay up to 400 eggs in the case. She covers them with stored sperm and leaves tiny passages through the sticky mass. The walnut size case hardens into a warm, protective home for the new babies until these emerge from it in summer.
The new hatchlings wiggle head out first and are no bigger than a mosquito. As the weeks pass the babies develop, shed their old skins and eventually reach adult stage with fully developed wings.