Looking to learn about orchid mantises? You're at the right place. Here, we'll tell you all about these amazing little insects: diet, habitat, and more!
35 Orchid Mantis Facts
Orchid mantises are some of the best camouflagers in the animal kingdom. From the right angle, they can look completely like flowers and nothing like insects.
They can even change color to better reflect the vegetation of their habitat.
1. What does the orchid mantis look like?
The orchid mantis looks like a flower; an orchid, if you could imagine. It has a white, semi-translucent body with colored accents on its long and slender limbs.
These colors can be pink, orange, yellow, green or brown, and they can change depending on the exact camouflage required in the mantis's habitat.
Some orchid mantises even have dark sections on their abdomens that look like the ovule of a budding flower.
Orchid mantises are also in possession of leg lobes that resemble flower petals. When you look at them from below, you can tell that they're just legs, but when the orchid is sitting on its haunches on top of a leaf, the leg lobes billow out like plump flower petals.
Aside from their incredibly good disguises, orchid mantises look a lot like regular mantises. They have four legs, two sets of wings and two eyes that protrude from the top of their head.
2. Are orchid mantises real?
You might suspect that they're a photoshop masterpiece, but orchid mantises are very real. They live in the rainforests of southeast Asia, and they're popular among hobbyists and bug collectors just like butterflies and beetles.
3. Why do orchid mantises look like flowers?
It's something called aggressive mimicry or a “wolf in sheep's clothing” strategy. Orchid mantises are carnivores, and they feed on other insects to survive.
Their flower-like appearance allows them to lure in prey. They don't even have to hunt; they can simply perch on a leaf and wait for another critter to come to them.
4. Are orchid mantises the only insects that mimic plants?
No. Orchid mantises are part of the “flower mantis” family, and they have several distant cousins that take on the sizes, shapes, colors, and curves of local plants.
For example, the devil's mantis is a collection of knobbly brown bits that are a dead ringer for crumpled leaves. And the spiny flower mantis has a white body with a gigantic green eyespot that blends in with flowers.
5. Is there a pink praying mantis?
There isn't really a pink praying mantis. One species called the California mantis (Stagmomantis californica) can occasionally come in pink or pastel hues, but this is a rare thing; its natural coloring is green, yellow and brown.
There's also the pink katydid (Amblycorypha oblongifolia) that can sometimes be confused for a praying mantis, but it's an entirely separate species.
Most of the time, when someone says “pink praying mantis,” they're talking about a pink-accented orchid mantis.
6. How big is an orchid mantis?
The female orchid mantis is 6 – 7 centimeters long. The male orchid mantis is only around 2 – 3 centimeters long.
This is an example of sexual dimorphism, but instead of males being bigger than females, it's the other way around.
7. How much does an orchid mantis weigh?
It isn't known how much orchid mantises weigh, but it's probably less than an ounce. They're a small species.
8. Is there any way to tell male and female orchid mantises apart?
Yes. In the mantis family, males always have eight body segments while females have six or seven.
You might need a microscope to count them with orchid mantises since they're so tiny, but they follow the usual patterns.
9. When was the orchid mantis discovered?
We aren't sure when orchid mantises came to the attention of humans, but one of their first appearances was in the journal of a British explorer named James Hingston.
He was traveling through West Java in 1879, and he stumbled across the mantis orchid with no idea what he was looking at.
He thought it was a “red flower” that sensed the presence of a butterfly landing on it. Before his astonished eyes, the flower trapped the butterfly within its leaves “as a spider would have enveloped it in a network.”
He wasn't aware that the species in question was an orchid mantis and not an actual orchid, but can you blame him?
10. Are all orchid mantises pink?
Pink is the primary color of most orchid mantises, but depending on their environment, they can have prominent patterns of white, yellow, orange and pastel purple.
They can also turn themselves brown if they need to blend in with darker leaves or soils.
11. Do orchid mantises change color?
Yes. While they aren't able to snap their fingers and instantly transform themselves, orchid mantises can trigger slow color changes when they detect something new in their environment.
Camouflage is critical to their survival, so it's a necessary biological function. They can go from the lightest of pinks to the darkest of browns if you give them enough time.
12. Do orchid mantises look like any orchids in particular?
Researchers have looked far and wide, but there's no particular orchid that resembles the orchid mantis. This might be deliberate.
By having a generic color palette that suggests “flower” rather than an identical match to a living species, orchid mantises are able to pull in many types of prey instead of a specific type that feeds on a specific orchid.
13. What is the orchid mantises Latin name?
The scientific name of the orchid mantis is Hymenopus coronatus or Hymenopus bicornis.
14. What other names does the orchid mantis have?
The orchid mantis has a couple of nicknames. “Pink orchid mantis” is the standard, boring one, and “walking flower mantis” is the poetic one.
15. Can orchid mantises climb?
Yes. Orchid mantises have two sets of legs that they use for climbing on leaves, twigs, branches, vines, and flowers.
The back legs are usually reserved for gripping and stabilizing while the front legs are left free for grabbing prey. Both sets of legs are covered in fine hairs.
16. Can orchid mantises fly?
Yes. Orchid mantises have two sets of wings and are adept flyers, so it isn't uncommon to see them fluttering around the rainforest.
- Males tend to be better at flying than females since they're smaller and have more energetic personalities.
- Female orchid mantises are usually slow, patient creatures that only fly when necessary.
17. Why do orchid mantises have a double set of wings?
It's a mantis thing. Not all of them have wings, but when they do, the wings come in pairs. The first set is a tough, almost leathery layer called the tegmen, and it protects the more fragile inner layer.
You can't always tell the difference when the orchid mantis is in flight, but when they're motionless, you can see how the tegmen naturally acts as a shield.
18. Are orchid mantises aggressive?
They might look like pearly rose buds that wouldn't hurt a fly (pun totally intended…), but orchid mantises can get quite aggressive.
For starters, they catch their prey by snatching it out of the air with their front legs and immediately and mercilessly devouring it.
While their primary diet is other insects, they have the ability to take down animals much larger than themselves, including frogs, rodents, lizards, and birds.
For comparison's sake, that would be like a human grabbing a grizzly bear and ripping it apart with their bare hands.
Female orchid mantises can get pretty bloodthirsty as well. Like many of their kind, they'll mercilessly eat males after copulation or when they're just plain hungry.
It's a casual kind of cannibalism that's made simple by the fact that females are so much bigger than males.
19. Do orchid mantises bite?
Orchid mantises can bite. They bite their prey, and they occasionally bite a human that's startled or aggravated them.
The good news is that orchid mantis bites aren't serious; they're your typical bug bites, and since they don't inject any venoms or stingers, the most that they'll do is cause mild skin irritation.
20. Do orchid mantises have teeth?
Yes. Orchid mantises have tiny teeth that they use to rip their prey into pieces; it's one of the reasons why they're able to take down animals two or three times their size.
They also have spiky hairs on their forelegs for the same purpose.
21. Are orchid mantises dangerous?
Orchid mantises are incredibly dangerous to other insects. Not only are they able to creep into another animal's habitat and hide there, but their lightning-fast reflexes are hard to escape.
Death by orchid mantis can be pretty gruesome as well; if you watch videos of their feeding, you'll often see the poor victim twitching even as they're eaten alive.
To humans, however, orchid mantises aren't any kind of threat. They can be a bit skittish, but if you treat them kindly and patiently, you can get them to crawl over your hand or hop into an aquarium. They only bite when they're provoked, and the bites aren't serious.
Some people even own orchid mantises as pets! They're rare, exotic, and beautiful, and their carcasses can be pinned and preserved after they die. They're a bit like beetles that way.
22. How long do orchid mantises live?
Assuming that he doesn't get eaten by a hungry mate, the male orchid mantis lives for 5 – 6 months.
The female orchid mantis survives a bit longer at 8 – 9 months.
23. What eats an orchid mantis? Predators
Orchid mantises are vulnerable to snakes, scorpions, lizards, monkeys and other creatures that eat bugs in the wild.
They aren't a common prey animal since they hide so well and put up such a major fight when they're caught, but they can still fall victim to a bigger, stronger creature.
24. How do orchid mantises avoid detection?
The obvious answer is that their floral appearance hides them from predators just as well as it lures in their prey.
However, the real answer is a bit more complicated than that.
In one study, scientists removed the petal-like leg lobes of the orchid mantis, but insects were still attracted to them like moths to a bug zapper.
This suggests that their legs serve more of a defensive purpose than an offensive one. They're probably meant to disguise themselves more than feeding themselves.
25. Will orchid mantises fight or flee from a predator?
They do both. Their most common response to danger is flight. Orchid mantises have two sets of working wings, so if they feel threatened, they'll simply take to the air.
Males can be particularly hair-trigger with this instinct since they're a jittery breed overall.
However, there are times when an orchid mantis will try to fight off an attacker. If it seems to be weaker than them, for example, they might start biting its head and mouth to subdue it and turn it into a meal.
Females will also defend their eggs from predators. They use a combination of legs and teeth; they basically turn their feeding tools into attack weapons.
26. Is the orchid mantis endangered?
Orchid mantises haven't been evaluated by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), so it's difficult to know if they're endangered. They're probably fine, however.
They cover such a broad land area that there are populations scattered all across southeast Asia, and since they're easily caught for the hobby trade, this suggests that they're numerous.
27. What do orchid mantises eat?
Orchid mantises feed primarily on other insects. They like bees, butterflies, moths, crickets, flies, and beetles.
In captivity, they'll accept dead bugs, but they almost never go for pre-killed carcasses in the wild. They want the thrill of the hunt and the freshness of their newly-captured prey.
Some orchid mantises have been known to go after bigger creatures. They'll target mice, frogs, birds, lizards, turtles, and even scorpions.
Their success rate can vary with this kind of prey. The occasional rodent or scorpion will turn it right back around on the orchid mantis and eat them instead!
28. How does the orchid mantis hunt?
Orchid mantises don't truly hunt. Instead, they lie in wait for their food to come to them.
They start the process by climbing on twigs and leaves until they find a flower that will camouflage them. They might not perch directly on it; they might stay a little off-center in hopes that their prey will go for the bullseye.
Then, they wait. They sway a little from side to side to make the flower seem more enticing to passing bugs.
They cling to their perch with their two back legs so that their front legs are free for snatching insects out of the air.
When a snack does come along, it's almost a foregone conclusion that the orchid mantis will kill it. They strike so suddenly that their prey doesn't see anything coming until it's too late.
Think of it like sitting on a chair and having the chair suddenly come to life and try to eat you. The poor victims are stunned!
29. How does an orchid mantis mate?
Since they have short, fast-paced lives, orchid mantises are ready to mate just a few months after being born.
The males usually court the females, but the females have the power to decapitate and eat them, so the ultimate power resides with the ladies. Feminists, amirite? 🙄
When she's ready to reproduce, a female orchid mantis will lay eggs in something called an ootheca. It's a sticky, foamy egg pouch with a lot of protein for growing babies.
The eggs will remain in the ootheca for six weeks, and mom will fiercely guard them during this time.
At six weeks, the eggs will hatch. As many as 100 babies can emerge from a single ootheca. These babies are called nymphs.
30. What's the life cycle of an orchid mantis?
Like all mantises, orchid mantises have three distinct stages of life:
- Eggs. This is when they're contained in the ootheca.
- Nymphs. This is the juvenile stage of life. They aren't considered larvae because their bodies are fully developed except for their wings, but they have a hard, unnecessary exoskeleton that they'll eventually need to shed.
- Adults. After shedding or “molting” their exoskeletons, orchid mantises reach their final adult form.
If you're familiar with insects, you probably know these life stages already. However, orchid mantises don't go through a pupal stage like other metamorphosing bugs.
31. What do young orchid mantises look like?
As nymphs, orchid mantises have the same body structure as adults, but their colors are completely different.
They have black legs and heads with vividly orange bodies. It's only after their first molt that they shed these hard, colorful layers and reveal pristine white forms underneath.
32. Where does the orchid mantis live?
The orchid mantis is found in southeast Asia. It's native to Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, and Indonesia.
33. What is the habitat of the orchid mantis?
Orchid mantises live in rainforests. They like shade, vegetation, moisture and tropical climates with high levels of humidity.
If you're going to put one in a tank, you'll need it to mimic a rainforest environment.
34. Can I have an orchid mantis as a pet?
Good news! If you're charmed by the pearly, pastel appearance of the orchid mantis, it's completely legal to own them as pets.
You'll just want to keep a few things in mind before you go shopping.
- They can get expensive. Orchid mantises are rare and exotic insects, so be prepared to drop some cash on them.
- Their tanks need constant care. Since they're native to rainforests, their tanks will need to be kept warm, moist and humid. The average temperature should be around 75°F – 95°F, and the humidity levels should be maintained at 60 – 70%. You might also want to put in some substrate to make it feel and function like a forest floor.
- Breeding can be difficult. Since males are smaller than females, they develop much faster. If you want a compatible breeding pair of the same maturity, you'll need to keep the genders separate while deliberately slowing the growth of the males. This can be achieved by feeding them less and keeping their tanks cooler than usual.
- They won't live long. Orchid mantises will only survive for 5 – 9 months depending on their gender. They aren't a long-term pet.
35. Where can I see the orchid mantis?
Orchid mantises are pretty difficult to spot in the wild. Camouflage is their thing!
You might get lucky if you have a really good guide on your wilderness tour, but otherwise, don't expect to observe any orchid mantises during your trip to Malaysia.
If you're willing to make do with captive specimens, however, you have a few options. There are zoos and insect houses that breed orchid mantises. You can also find dead, pinned specimens on display at various institutions.
An Orchid By Any Other Name
They're beautiful, deadly, exotic, rare and expensive. There's a reason why orchid mantises have captured imaginations worldwide, so if you feel yourself developing a new obsession, you're not alone.
What did you learn in this post? Have anything to add? Let me know in the comments!
Drew Haines is an animal enthusiast and travel writer. She loves to share her passion through her writing. She graduated high school at sixteen and started her own business, Everywhere Wild Media. And she runs Everywhere Wild and JustBirding. She also guest blogs on Storyteller.Travel
She lived in Ecuador for 6 years and explored the Galapagos Islands. Currently based in N.S., Canada.