Praying mantises are fascinating insects. Whether you keep them as pets or observe them in the wild, you may be curious about some of their behaviors, such as the way they shed their skin. You may be wondering: when do praying mantises shed their skin? And why do they do this? Keep reading: in this article, we’ll answer these and other questions.
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Do Praying Mantises Shed Their Skin?
Baby praying mantises look much like their adult counterparts; the only difference is that adults are much larger and typically have wings.
As they grow from babies into adults, praying mantises shed their skin, or molt, several times. This molting process is necessary for their growth and transformation.
The process can last for several days and usually begins with decreased activity. As the mantis prepares to shed its skin, it will move more slowly, behave lethargically, and eat very little.
It will also spend a lot of time hanging upside down with its front legs held slightly apart. It may vibrate or twitch, and it may appear to be coated in a white, papery layer as the old skin loosens.
Finally, this top skin layer will split open and the praying mantis will wiggle out of it. The new skin layer underneath will be soft and pliable at first, allowing the mantis to grow before the skin hardens and becomes an exoskeleton.
Juvenile mantises may shed their skin as many as twelve times over a period of a few months, though the exact number can vary widely depending on species and environmental conditions.
Check out this video to see a praying mantis shedding its skin:
When Do Praying Mantises Shed Their Skin?
Praying mantises emerge from their egg sacs in the spring and complete their life cycle in the fall. They shed their skin most during the first few months of life.
As a result, praying mantises most often shed their skin during spring and early summer, when they are growing rapidly.
Once they reach adulthood, they stop growing. This eliminates the need to shed their skin, as the purpose of molting is to remove an older, smaller exoskeleton and allow a larger one to take its place.
Why Do Praying Mantises Shed Their Skin?
Praying mantises grow from nymphs to adults in stages called instars. The mantises move from one stage into the next by shedding their skin.
A mantis’s skin is a hard, inflexible exoskeleton. As the mantis grows, this exoskeleton is unable to grow with it; therefore, it must be removed.
So, praying mantises shed their skin to grow. If the old skin was not removed, it would restrict the insect’s growth process, ultimately killing it.
In fact, some mantises do experience complications during the molting process; the skin fails to separate properly or takes much longer than it should to separate. In these cases, the mantis often dies.
These complications can be a result of dehydration or other environmental factors. They may also occur when the mantis is disturbed during the molting process.
With this in mind, if you keep pet praying mantises, it’s important to recognize when they are preparing to molt. Mist their enclosure often to keep it moist, and give the insects plenty of space until they have shed the old skin and resumed normal activities.
Will a Praying Mantis Eat After Shedding Its Skin?
As mentioned above, praying mantises typically stop eating for a few days before shedding their skin. After molting, they are usually quite hungry and will begin searching for food again.
Many praying mantises will even eat their own molted skin as their first meal after shedding. The skin is filling and provides some basic nutrition.
That said, praying mantises prefer live meat over their own dried, dead skin. They will resume hunting for prey insects and small animals shortly after molting.
What Is a Praying Mantis’s Life Cycle?
A praying mantis has three distinct stages in its life cycle: egg, nymph, and adult. The egg stage is the only one that can survive through the winter.
Each fall, female praying mantises produce a styrofoam-like egg sac called an ootheca and fill it with up to 400 eggs. The egg sac preserves the eggs through the harsh winter months.
In the spring, the eggs mature and baby mantises, or nymphs, emerge from the egg sac. The tiny insects look much like miniature versions of the adults.
Praying mantis nymphs often cannibalize their siblings as their first meal. Those that survive the feeding frenzy spread out in search of gnats, fruit flies, and other small insects to eat.
Nymphs spend the next few months hunting for food and repeatedly shedding their skin as they grow from one instar to the next. At first, they may molt every few days, though this typically slows down to every few weeks as they near adulthood.
Some species only shed their skin a few times, while others may do it up to twelve times. When they shed for the last time, wings emerge and the nymph is now considered an adult.
Adult praying mantises live out the rest of the summer and fall without shedding their skin. They are adept flyers and hunters that eat insects and spiders of all kinds, as well as some small birds, frogs, and rodents.
In the fall, males and females mate with each other. The females of some species kill and eat the males after mating.
Before winter sets in, females lay their egg sacs, beginning the process all over again. They then die around the time of the first freeze of the season.
Praying mantises shed their skin several times throughout the spring and early summer. They do this so they can grow from small nymphs into adults. Mantises stop shedding their skin once they reach adulthood.