Gardening

Praying mantis egg case identification — and all about praying mantises

Praying mantis egg case identification — and all about praying mantises thumbnail
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In this article, you’ll learn all about praying mantises, including what their egg cases (oothecae) look like. Praying mantises are a popular predatory insect common in home gardens and wild habitats alike.


Most people — especially those who garden — know what a praying mantis looks like. These magnificent insects are famed for their alien-like visages and ferocious predatory habits.

But how much do you know about the native or common praying mantis species found in your particular region? Can you identify praying mantis nymphs? Do you know what their egg cases look like so you can be sure to avoid harming them when you’re doing fall or spring yard chores?

Can you spot the young praying mantis nymph in this picture? For size reference, it's on a strawberry leaf and a Sphynx moth is emerging on a pea plant in the background.

Can you spot the young praying mantis nymph in this picture? For size reference, it’s on a strawberry leaf and a Sphynx moth is emerging on a pea plant in the background.

If not, read on to learn more about these awesome insects!

What’s the life cycle of a praying mantis? How long do they live? 

Praying mantises’ life cycle is egg > nymph (with various instar stages) > adult.

The lifespan of a praying mantis varies by species, climate, and whether or not the insects are wild or kept in captivity. Praying mantises in our area (Zone 7b) live from about April through first frost in mid-October.

A praying mantis exploring pineapple leaves in mid-summer at Tyrant Farms.

A praying mantis exploring pineapple leaves in mid-summer at Tyrant Farms.

What is an ootheca?

“Ootheca” sounds like a rural town in our home state of South Carolina, but it’s actually the scientific name for the egg cases/masses of mantises, roaches, and mollusks. In Latin, ootheca translates to egg container.

Praying mantises don’t lay single solitary eggs. Instead their oothecae (plural of ootheca) contain up to 200 eggs. Only a small fraction of their offspring, maybe 20%, will survive to reproductive age, so it’s all a numbers game to ensure the species’ survival.

When do praying mantises lay eggs? When do the eggs eclose?

In our area, mature female mantises can make several oothecae from late summer-early fall. The eggs in the ootheca overwinter, eclosing in spring when triggered by sustained warm temperatures.

What do praying mantis nymphs look like? What do they eat?

All instar stages of praying mantis nymphs look like miniature adult praying mantises, making them easy to identify — assuming you can spot them. This is known as an incomplete metamorphosis.

A tiny praying mantis nymph. This one is about 1/4

A tiny praying mantis nymph. This one is about 1/4″ long.

Butterflies and certain other insects undergo a complete metamorphosis (with a fourth pupal stage), wherein they look like totally different organisms between the larval and adult stages.

How do you tell the difference between a Carolina and a Chinese mantis?

There are hundreds of species of praying mantises around the world. In Greenville, South Carolina where we live, there are two species of endemic mantises:

  • native Carolina mantises (Stagmomantis carolina), and
  • non-native Chinese mantises (Tenodera sinensis).
A Carolina mantis hunting on milkweed leaves in our garden.

A Carolina mantis hunting on milkweed leaves in our garden.

Chinese mantises were introduced to the east coast in the late 1800s, and have thrived here. They’re much larger than our native Carolina mantises, and have been known to eat them.

At full maturity, Carolina mantis males are about 1.7″ and females are about 2.5″; Chinese mantis males are about 3.5″ and females are about 4″.

This large adult female Chinese mantis appears to be conducting an orchestra from this cone flower perch.

This large adult female Chinese mantis appears to be conducting an orchestra from this cone flower perch.

What does a praying mantis egg case (ootheca) look like?

Each species of praying mantis has a slightly different shaped and sized ootheca. Praying mantis oothecae have a light tan/brown color that blends in with its surroundings and a dense, papery-bubbly texture almost like spray foam insulation.

For reference, here is a picture of a Chinese mantis egg case/ootheca:

A Chinese mantis egg case (oothaca). The egg cases of Carolina mantises look similar in color and texture, but have a long, flatter shape.

And here is a picture of a Carolina mantis egg case, which looks similar in color and texture to a Chinese mantis egg case, but is smaller, more elongated, and flatter: 

Carolina mantis (Stagmomantis carolina) egg case, hand for size reference.

Carolina mantis egg case, hand for size reference.

How do you tell female and male praying mantises apart?

The easiest way to tell male vs female praying mantises apart: female praying mantises have six abdominal segments, whereas males have eight segments.

Adult Chinese mantises mating on a native passionfruit vine. As you can see, the male is smaller than the female.

Adult Chinese mantises mating on a native passionfruit vine. As you can see, the male is smaller than the female.

Here’s a good article to see examples and read more about the differences between male and female mantises.

Can praying mantises bite people? 

Yes, praying mantises can bite people IF they think you’re prey, but they can’t hurt anything more than your feelings. It’s probably not a great idea to wiggle your finger in front of a praying mantis’s face, although they’re very likely to also see your large body and move away from you rather than try to make a meal of you.

According to one of our gardening friends with personal experience, praying mantises can also strike you with their powerful front legs, which can pack quite a wallop. She had this happen to her when a praying mantis felt threatened, not due to it being aggressive.

We often encounter praying mantises on our elderberries since they like to hunt pest insects like leaf-footed bugs there.

We often encounter praying mantises on our elderberries since they like to hunt pest insects like leaf-footed bugs there.

Are praying mantises poisonous? 

No, praying mantises are not poisonous. So in the off chance that you happen to get bitten by a praying mantis, there’s no risk of you being poisoned by venom.

However, if you are bitten by a praying mantis, you’ll get bragging rights with your friends. One day, you’ll also be able to tell your grandkids about the time you were attacked by a praying mantis and lived to tell the tale.

The Tyrant holding an adult Chinese mantis. She lived to tell the tale!

The Tyrant holding an adult Chinese mantis. She lived to tell the tale!

Can praying mantises fly?

Some species of praying mantises can fly. The Chinese mantises we’ve seen flying are rather awkward, like a giant, drunken moth. One summer evening, we saw a huge clumsy insect flying far up into a large wild cherry tree and realized it was a praying mantis.

In most species of mantises, having wings is an indicator that they’re adults, as the nymphs typically do not have wings. This is not true for all specie of mantises, however.

In Carolina mantises, only the males can fly. The females have larger abdomens and short wings.

In Carolina mantises, only the males can fly. The females have larger abdomens and short wings, rendering them flightless.

Do female praying mantises really eat their mates?

Yes, females in some mantis species sometimes engage in sexual cannibalism, eating their male mates. A study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society found that — in the wild — sexual cannibalism occurs in 13-28% of encounters in mantis species that exhibit sexual cannibalism.

Rates of sexual cannibalism are likely much higher in captive mantises, especially if the insects are underfed. It’s generally advised that humans not mimic such behaviors.

Help! I found a praying mantis egg case on my Christmas tree. What should I do?

People often discover praying mantis cases on their Christmas trees after they bring them home. If this happens to you, what should you do?

Answer: remove the branch with the mantis egg case on it from the tree and place it outdoors asap before the indoor heat triggers the mantis eggs to hatch. Don’t try to rip the egg case off the tree or you’ll likely crush the delicate eggs inside.


We hope this article answers all your praying mantis questions! If not, ask away in the comments below.

Maybe you can go outside and hunt for mantis oothecae in your yard or garden! 

KIGI,

Other six-legged articles you may enjoy:

Learn all about praying mantises, including what their egg cases (oothecae) look like. Praying mantises are a popular predatory insect common in home gardens and wild habitats alike.

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