The Chinese mantis (Tenodera sinensis) is an impressive creature. Introduced to North America, it has certainly made itself at home here. Entomologists I’ve talked to express varying levels of concern about the presence of the Chinese mantis – as well as the narrow-winged mantis (Tenodera angustipennis) and European mantis (Mantis religiosa). Most would rather those non-native mantises not be here, but say it’s hard to find strong evidence that they are doing measurable harm to the ecosystems they’ve moved into. If anyone knows of research that has defined the impacts of these non-native mantises I’d love to hear about it.
Regardless of impact, Chinese mantises are fascinating animals, as are our native mantises like the Carolina mantis (Stagmomantis carolina). While I was out taking pictures last weekend, I ran across three different Chinese mantises and captured the images in this post. I think they show some of the various attributes of these amazing (and possibly harmful) creatures.
One additional attribute of praying mantises, especially the big ones, is that they are noticed by the general public, including kids. I spent last Friday helping with a prairie-based field day for 5th graders, and my job was to get the students interested in invertebrates. We used sweep nets to catch inverts, and the kids got to catch and hold grasshoppers, katydids, and spiders. Moving kids from “Spiders are icky!” to “Ha ha – this spider tickles when it walks on my hand!” is a really important process. If we want people to understand the value of invertebrates, they first have to see them as something other than icky. In that regard, the absolute star of the day was a big Chinese mantis one of the kids found early in the day. I kept it and showed it to each group of students I visited with during the day, and it never failed to get oohs and aahs from them. Everyone got to touch it, and it was big enough that we could easily talk about it’s various body parts, how it hunts, etc. As an ambassador for invertebrate kind, it was very effective. An important gateway bug, if you will.