Praying Mantis: Symbolism & Meaning

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  • 0:05 The Praying Mantis Itself
  • 0:53 Praying Mantises in Nature
  • 1:50 Praying Mantis…
  • 2:46 The Praying Mantis in Art
  • 3:07 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Laura Armstrong

Laura is a freelance musician and has taught college Music courses and holds a D.M.A. in Music Performance.

In this lesson, you will learn about the praying mantis, a common insect found throughout the world. Many cultures have believed that the praying mantis has a special meaning; it was also an important symbol in Chinese martial arts.

The Praying Mantis Itself

From whence arrived the praying mantis?
From outer space, or lost Atlantis?
I glimpse the grim, green metal mug
That masks this pseudo-saintly bug,
Orthopterous, also carnivorous,
And faintly whisper, Lord deliver us.

- Ogden Nash

The mysterious praying mantis, a recognizable type of insect, has fascinated humans for centuries. Found on all continents except Antartica, there are over 1,800 praying mantis species, and eight families of mantids. The word mantid comes from a Greek term that means 'prophet' or 'seer.' One of the praying mantis's most distinctive physical features, which led to its descriptive name, are the front legs which are folded in a pose that makes it appear they are praying.

Praying Mantises in Nature

Praying mantises vary in color; green in North America, brown in Africa, and even pink in Burma. They all have the distinctive triangular-shaped heads, large forward-facing eyes, and two antennae. Their heads move freely and have a 180-degree range of motion. They also have long bodies with six legs and four large wings.

A carnivorous insect, praying mantises eat live prey, which include other insects. Larger mantises have been known to catch and eat small frogs, lizards, rodents, and birds. Their large eyes can help them see prey up to fifty feet away, and they can hold their meal with their spiked front legs. This leads many people to believe the insect is called the 'preying' mantis. They are also notoriously cannibalistic. In some cases, a female praying mantis will bite the head off the male after or even during mating. This mainly occurs in captivity; in the wild, the male is usually able to escape.

Praying Mantis Symbolism & Meaning

Because of this insect's unique pose, it often symbolizes stillness or prayer in many cultures. Many praying mantises camouflage themselves and hide in stillness as they wait for prey to approach. This serves as a reminder to consider all possible options before acting.

Some cultures believe that praying mantises possess great intuition, and can help show them the way ahead. In France, it has been thought that a praying mantis can help lost children find their way home. And many Muslims believe that a praying mantis will point towards Mecca. Since the Greeks named them 'prophet' or 'seer,' they believed that praying mantises were oracles and could predict the future.

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