As praying mantises are so fascinating, here is a roundup of the five species of praying mantises that I have been able to photograph in our garden.

More properly known as mantids, there are about 2400 mantid species globally with about 185 species occurring in South Africa. Given these numbers it is perhaps surprising that I have photographed only five species in our garden.

Less surprising is that the mantid I see most often is the aptly named Common Green Mantid (Sphodromantis gastrica). Like all mantids it is a predator, but unusually its diet consists mostly of caterpillars. In the photo above an adult Common Green Mantid is rather gruesomely eating a live processional caterpillar (Anaphe reticulata).

Looking way cuter to my anthropomorphic eyes is an as yet wingless nymph. Mantid nymphs go through several developmental stages or instars before reaching adulthood. Immature nymphs are usually wingless or the wings are undeveloped and they carry the tip of the abdomen curled up over the body.

Many mantids give the impression of being very expressive, which is rather unusual for insects. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that they can swivel their heads to gaze at whatever has caught their attention. In this instance the nymph was watching me, or at least the camera lens.

Most interestingly this common green mantis nymph (above) was attracting the attention of several jackal flies. Jackal flies (in the family Milichiidae) scavenge from the freshly caught prey – often bees – of predatory spiders and insects such as mantids. Perhaps these flies were hanging around after the mantid had caught and eaten some prey.

I wondered if perhaps the mantid was a messy eater and the flies were cleaning it up? This possibility is pure speculation on my part, but the Wikipedia entry on Milichiidae notes that some species of jackal flies appear to serve “a function analogous to that of cleaner wrasser and cleaner shrimp” where they have been observed scavenging around the mouth parts and anal openings of large spiders, with some spiders even opening their jaws to enable the flies to clean up sticky residues.

I have previously done several posts on the decorative spiny flower mantids (Pseudocreobotra wahlbergi), which take camouflage to another level. In the photo above the mantid had ventured away from the flowers and so could clearly be seen against the green of the leaves on a perennial basil plant.

The small size of a spiny flower mantid nymph can be appreciated by seeing it perched on a rose (in our neighbour’s garden) from where it hopes to ambush and catch any visiting pollinators.

The only time I saw a mantid nymph do its final moult into adulthood with fully developed wings was the one in the above photo, also photographed in our neighbour’s garden. It was tricky to photograph as it was partially concealed by foliage and the light was bright. However, the unfurled wings with their characteristic eye spots, although still pale as the wings hardened, were visible.

The adult wings are long and extend beyond the tip of the abdomen. The eye spot markings on the top of each forewing are clearly defined.

The mantid was nearly fully recovered from moulting when I was able to take a photo from above it so as to make the eye-spot or spiral marking easier to see. The mantid was looking up at me warily.

The adult spiny flower mantid moved away into the shrub and I wondered how long it might be before it would be able to fly off perhaps in search of a mate.

The spiny flower mantid certainly looked spectacular when seen in brighter light.

By contrast the also well-camouflaged bark mantid is a sombre creature compared to the highly ornamented and colourful spiny flower mantid. Bark mantids are in the famiy Tarachodidiae, formerly a subfamily of Mantidae, but now recognised as a distinct family.

The only time I have come across an African twig mantis (Popa spurca) was this one that I found perching motionless on our dog’s mattress that was airing outside on our front deck. This is a male, more slender and darker than the female, and it holds its forelegs stretched out in front of it, which is a characteristic of this species.

After I carried the mattress outside to give the mantis a better chance of making an escape into nearby vegetation I took the above photo. By now I certainly had the mantid’s attention. Adult African twig mantids live in trees but the nymphs are ground dwellers.

A closer shot of the African twig mantid that I fancy is looking rather jolly. For some reason he reminds of Kermit the frog from the Muppets.

This ghost mantis (Phyllocrania paradoxa), also known as a leaf mantis, was featured in a previous post when I came across it in an arum lily plant in the garden. This mantid is a nymph with the abdomen curled up over the body. Nymphs and female ghost mantids have leaf-like ornamentations on the legs and abdomen. Adult males are plain and slender by comparison.

I have seen other ghost mantids in the garden but I was not able to photograph them,  apart from the one above that I discovered moving around in understory plants below a small grove of trees. When I first saw it, it was hanging upside down and I had difficulty sorting out the anatomy.

When I say it was moving around, it not only climbed around in the vegetation but it also moved when staying in one spot, swaying in imitation of a leaf being blown in the wind. It was quite an extraordinary thing to see.

Despite the intervening vegetation, I managed to get some video of its intriguing swaying. Quite how this impressive mimicry improves its success as a hunter is hard to say. I do think though that the video could do with some well-chosen music to match the mantid’s swaying.


Picker, Mike, Griffiths, Charles & Weaving, Alan. 2019. Field Guide to Insects of South Africa. Cape Town: Struik Nature.

Posted by Carol