Praying mantises are named for the prayer-like way these insects hold their arms. Praying mantises are very cryptic animals that go to great lengths to remain hidden from both predators and prey. They're capable of hiding because of their camouflage coloration, sedentary behavior and the rocking motions employed when they do have to move.
Praying Mantis Basics
Praying mantises are medium to large insects that are found all over the world. Most numerous in the tropics, female mantises are well-known for their habit of sometimes eating their mates. Praying mantises have evolved complex mechanisms to suit their lifestyle, including long, snare-like arms to capture insects, a head that can rotate 180 degrees so they can scan their surroundings while remaining still, and a combination of complex and simple eyes that can detect motion up to 60 feet away.
Praying mantises have exceptional camouflaging abilities. Colored uniformly green in some species, other species incorporate brown or grey into their color scheme. Often, praying mantises from dry areas are brown, whereas those from wet areas are green. Technically, praying mantises exhibit both camouflage and crypsis, the former refers to an animal that hides from prey, while the latter refers only to hiding from predators.
In addition to their effective camouflage, praying mantises also hide by remaining motionless for long periods of time. Most animals see movement incredibly well, and by simply remaining still, the mantis can avoid drawing the attention of most predators. When a praying mantis finds a good place to catch its prey, it stays there with its long arms ready; when a butterfly or other insect ventures too close, it snatches them out of the air. The long arms of the mantis also help to restrict the movements of the struggling prey, which may attract the attention of other predators. Once captured, the praying mantis bites the neck of its prey to paralyze it.
Praying mantises are deliberate when they move, and only do so when there is good reason to. When they do move, they often travel forward while gently rocking back and forth. This helps them to blend in with the bush or tree they are climbing on, as it sways in the breeze.
Some praying mantis species have evolved an auditory apparatus that can hear the echolocation calls of bats -- a significant predator of mantises. While many praying mantises are largely diurnal and simply hide during the night, males of some species fly in search of females at night. During this flight, the mantises are not protected by their usual camouflage, and have developed evasive aerial maneuvers to avoid the bats. A 1990 study by David D. Yager and Michael L. May, published in the “Journal of Experimental Biology,” showed the males would not attempt to avoid bats if resting on a substrate; they would only try to avoid bats when in the air.