You may have heard that female praying mantises eat their mates while in the act of mating. Is this true? How do praying mantises mate, exactly? How long does the process take? Why do they eat their mates? And how many eggs do they lay? Keep reading as we explore all of these questions in detail.
What You'll Learn Today
How Do Praying Mantises Mate?
Praying mantises typically mate within a couple of weeks after reaching adulthood. When a female is ready to mate, she releases chemicals called pheromones which males use to find her.
Mating can be a risky business for males, as we’ll discuss in greater detail below. Because of the risks involved, the male often approaches the female from behind, sneaking up on her and hopping onto her back rather than approaching her from the front.
The reproductive organs are found at the base of the praying mantis’ abdomen. The male and female mate by linking these organs as the male sits on the female’s back.
How Long Do Praying Mantises Mate?
Depending on the species, a mating pair of praying mantises may stay linked for up to 24 hours. Most species mate for less than that, usually only a few hours.
Praying mantises typically begin mating in the late summer months, and mating may continue through late fall. Females may mate more than once during this time; males, if they survive their first mating encounter, may mate again as well.
Praying mantises typically mate in the afternoon and early evening, though again, this depends on the species. Some species have been observed mating as early as dawn, while others don’t begin until sunset.
Why Do Praying Mantises Eat Their Mates?
For many praying mantis males, mating can be a deadly process.
Praying mantises at all stages of life may cannibalize other members of their own species. They are opportunistic feeders who will eat anything they can catch, including their mates.
Male praying mantises are generally smaller than females, and if the female is hungry or malnourished, she may eat her mate during or after copulation.
Praying mantises are somewhat notorious for this behavior, but it doesn’t happen as often as you might think.
Female praying mantises only eat their mate about 30 percent of the time in the wild.
The rate may be somewhat higher among praying mantises that are bred in captivity, for a few reasons.
In the wild, males tend to be a little more choosy about the females they approach, seeming to prefer those that are healthier and appear well-fed so as to limit their chances of being eaten. In captivity, the males simply have to mate with the available females, even if those females are malnourished and aggressive.
What’s more, males in the wild usually have more space to hide as they stealthily approach the female and more room to escape after mating. Pairs in captivity are usually kept together in a relatively small enclosure, so the male is essentially trapped with the female.
If a female kept in captivity has been well-fed before mating, she is less likely to eat the male during and after copulation. But if she hasn’t been fed enough, she may decide to eat the male even before they have mated, simply because she is hungry.
Whether or not the female eats the male also depends somewhat on the species. Some praying mantis species are far more inclined to cannibalism than others, and a few almost never eat other members of their own species.
Whenever a female does eat a male, she usually does so in the middle of copulation, while they are linked together. In most cases, she only eats the head.
Interestingly, this actually appears to improve mating success, as ganglia in the male’s abdomen allow him to continue copulating even after his head has been eaten. Studies have shown that this actually allows more of the female’s eggs to be fertilized.
Check out this video of a female praying mantis eating her mate:
When Do Praying Mantises Lay Eggs?
Praying mantises lay their eggs shortly after mating, usually in late summer through late fall. These eggs then overwinter and hatch out the following spring.
To keep the eggs safe and help insulate them against the cold, female praying mantises produce a foam-like case called an ootheca. Though it comes out looking like a foamy liquid, it quickly hardens into a material more like styrofoam.
Sometimes the eggs will hatch out in late winter, but the baby mantises won’t emerge from the ootheca until the following spring. One they do come out, they are ravenously hungry and will disperse quickly to find food; if they hang around the ootheca too long, they will begin to eat each other.
How Many Eggs are in a Praying Mantis Egg Sac?
Praying mantises lay different numbers of eggs depending on their species and overall health level. Mating success can also affect the number of eggs laid, as the females who mate completely with a decapitated male tend to lay more eggs than those who don’t eat their mate.
Once a female has mated once, she can produce several oothecae. Each of these egg sacs may have anywhere from a few dozen up to 400 eggs inside.
The female dies shortly after laying all of her eggs.
Praying mantises have a unique and sometimes brutal mating ritual. Males usually choose their mate by sneaking up and hopping on her from behind, and females sometimes eat the head of their mate during copulation. Though this happens more in captivity than in the wild, it does appear to improve overall mating success and lead to more eggs being fertilized.