Praying Mantis: Fierce and Fascinating Garden Bugs

Updated: Jun. 20, 2024

Find out what foods a praying mantis will eat and how to attract these beneficial bugs. Plus learn about praying mantis eggs and babies.

praying mantisCourtesy Amanda West

Maybe you’ve spotted a praying mantis clinging to a thin branch or skulking in a thick garden hedge. With front legs folded in what looks like prayer, these large-bodied insects are fun to look at—and hard to miss. Throw in their unusual behavior, like cocking their heads sideways and hunting prey big and small, and praying mantises become some of the fiercest and most fascinating bugs in your garden.

Well over a thousand mantid species crawl across the globe, but only a handful live in North America. Collectively, they go by the catchall term “praying mantis” because of the way the insect holds its forelimbs in front of its thorax. But that serene posture can be deceiving: While it may seem to be in deep meditation, it’s actually waiting for an unsuspecting insect to venture too close.

What Does a Praying Mantis Eat?

Bnbugc Glenda Powell 2Courtesy Glenda Powell
Praying mantis on a coneflower

Mantids typically eat other bugs but aren’t too picky about dinner. If a fellow garden visitor passes near enough, they instinctively try to grab it and make a meal of it. While this does mean that praying mantises will consume beneficial insects, like butterflies and bees, they’re also happy to dine on pests like mosquitoes and flies.

Twelve mantis species are known for capturing birds. Ruby-throated hummingbirds are prime targets because of their small size.

“I’ve heard from some people that praying mantises are a problem in gardens. Is this true?” says Sue Moreaux, Forestville, Wisconsin.

Birding experts Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman say, “Praying mantises eat other insects, so they’re sometimes recommended for pest control, but they’re just as likely to eat pollinators as pests, so their impacts are mostly neutral.

In Pennsylvania and elsewhere in the Northeast, most large mantises belong to three introduced species, one from Europe and two from Asia, and they can cause problems when their populations are unnaturally high. In flower gardens they may catch many bees, butterflies and other pollinators, and they have even been known to kill hummingbirds on occasion.”

Gardening expert Melinda Myers says, “Most gardeners are happy to see praying mantises in their garden. They are predators who eat flies, beetles, crickets, moths and grasshoppers.

Smaller prey, not hummingbirds, are their preferred food. They may snatch a hummingbird when pursuing insects drawn to the sugary water in hummingbird feeders. Or, if they are hungry enough, they may go after this much larger prey. The larger tropical mantises will eat other animals such as lizards and frogs.”

Keep your yard safe from hummingbird predators.

Praying Mantis Predators

Melinda says birds, spiders and bats eat praying mantises, and if they fall into water they can become a meal for fish.

How Long Does a Praying Mantis Live?

baby praying mantis on a fingerAkchamczuk/Getty Images
A baby praying mantis

The life cycle takes about a year. Wild European mantis females typically have a lifespan of six and a half months.

Females reach full size by mid- to late summer, when they are ready to mate. The males, which are a lot smaller, proceed with caution, because cannibalism isn’t unknown in mantid species. Most females outlive males by about a month.

Discover bugs you should never kill in your garden.

Praying Mantis Eggs and Babies

Egg of Praying Mantiskororokerokero/Getty Images
Egg sac

After mating, the female lays a cluster of eggs on a plant stem and encases them in foam that dries into a protective case. The eggs overwinter and develop. Then, come springtime, they hatch into miniature replicas of the adults. These baby praying mantis are ready to devour any garden pests that come their way.

Female mantises can boost their egg production by at least 22% (and even up to 135%) by consuming their mates.

Most small mantis populations decrease in size or go extinct if cannibalism exceeds 40% during breeding season.

How to Attract a Praying Mantis

No matter where you live, the best way to persuade mantids to settle in your garden or landscape is simply to fill your space with a wide range of plants. Native plants work best because they more readily attract tasty insects. Avoid insecticides, too.

Chinese Mantids

Insect of Praying Mantis on ornamental fir tree branches.marvod/Getty Images

Although most mantids are welcome backyard guests, one species in particular overstays its welcome: Chinese mantids. They’re eye-catching, but these invasive insects are replacing native species such as the Carolina mantid. The situation is not complete gloom and doom, though. Like all mantids, this species eats pesky garden bugs, too.

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Praying Mantis Control

Kenn and Kimberly say, “If your garden seems overrun with mantises, you can pick some off by hand (wear gloves) and remove them. In late fall, look for the distinctive mantis egg cases on your plants and destroy those to reduce the next year’s population.”

Next, check out the ultimate guide to growing milkweed plants for monarchs.

Fascinating Mantis Facts

  • The oldest fossil that resembles current-day mantises is at least 59 million years old.
  • Mantises are a delicacy in more than 10 cultures worldwide, including in India and Nigeria. They’re considered best served fried, roasted or smoked.

About the Experts

Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman are the official birding experts for Birds & Blooms and the creators of the Kaufman Field Guide series. They speak and lead birding trips all over the world.

Melinda Myers is the official gardening expert for Birds & Blooms. She is a TV/radio host, author and columnist who has written more than 20 gardening books. Melinda earned a master’s degree in horticulture from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.