The orchid mantis is a subspecies of praying mantis, but doesn’t look like the standard, greater known, green insect, and is considered by many a ‘gem’ in the mantis kingdom. As its name suggests, this mantis (particularly in its juvenile stages) looks just like an orchid flower, and is just one of several species which are otherwise known as ‘flower mantis’s’. However, despite its popularity and appeal with hobbyists, it remains to be a very elusive and poorly understood species.
Habitat & Distributions
This beautiful species is found within the tropical rain forests of southeast Asia including Malaysia and Indonesia. They are rarely encountered in the wild, so there is very little information about their micro habitat or fine scale distributions.
It is completely understandable as to why this species has the name it has. The exoskeleton of the orchid mantis’ four hind legs expands outwards forming broad ‘femoral lobes’ that resemble flower petals. In juveniles, which haven’t developed their wings, this trait makes them look like delicate little orchid flower heads, camouflaging them well in the surrounding tropical foliage. It is also thought that this flower like resemblance attracts pollinating insects which are captured as prey and held securely using their ‘raptorial’ forelegs. These grasping forelimbs are shaped with a set of rounded spines at the base of the femur, which are protected by several tooth-like tubercles. These alongside the set of tubercles along the tibia and apical claw at the tip, give the foreleg of the mantis is grip on its prey. Once both the males and females reach maturity, they also develop a set of wings.
This species shows some of the most noticeable sexual dimorphism in the mantis kingdom and can be sexed as early as after their first molt (L2). Males can be less than half the size of the females, growing only up to around 2.5cm in length, whilst the females generally grow to 6-8cm.The appearance between the two sexes also differs. An adult male has long grey wings that extend beyond the tip of the abdomen, which is made up of 8 segments, and will only molt 5 times before it gets to this stage. Due to their smaller size in comparison to the females, they mature a lot earlier and go through fewer molts before reaching sexual maturity. Their body is orangey-brown in colour with a brown collar, and they have relatively small lobes on their legs. An adult female also has long wings which extend beyond their abdomen, made up of 6 segments, however their colouration is more of a yellow- white, with a brownish tip at either end. Females take longer to get to this stage, and will molt 7 times before becoming sexually mature. The lobes on their legs are large, and the rest of their exoskeleton ranges from white to pink in pigmentation with a green collar. Both the males and females can fly once they develop their wings upon their last molt, males being slightly better at it than females. as well as maturing faster than the females, the males also have a shorter life span at around 6 months, whereas the females usually live up to 8 months.
Before each molt the mantis stops feeding for around 2 days. When the time is right, they will molt upside down, completely removing themselves from their old exoskeleton. Providing the humidity is right, this occurs with ease, and the mantis will then take around a day to sit and ‘dry off’. The mantis is very delicate at this stage and will continue not to feed until its hard exoskeleton has reformed. During the individuals, last molt into adulthood, the wings emerge in a slow extension process during its ‘drying out’ period. Around 2 weeks after the last molt, females become ready to mate.
The male mounts the females back where it will begin tapping its forelimbs. This is a sign the mating process is going to start. He then moves slightly side on to the female, for him to gain access to her abdomen, which he does by curving himself underneath her wings from the side. This process can last from 24 hours to weeks. Once the male has finished mating its generally the end of the road for him. In most cases when dismounting the female, they become prey to her quick grasp, and are immediately decapitated. If the male is lucky enough to get away, he will usually only have a few days left to live, due to the sheer amount of energy exerted during the mating.
It can take days up to weeks after mating for the females to lay their ootheca (a cluster of eggs surrounded by a foam of protein). These begin as white in colour, but commonly turn light brown after a day or 2 of being laid, at roughly 5cm in length. After 5-6 weeks, the ooth will begin to hatch around 50 – 100 nymphs. First stage nymphs will hatch looking like little ants with black bodies and red legs, possessing a powerful bite and a foul taste to any hungry predators. Their renown pink and white colours appear after their first moult.
The orchid mantis is a carnivorous species, as nymphs feeding on other insects in its surrounding habitat. Once fully mature mantises have been known to eat prey larger than themselves such as small lizards, alongside their insect diet. Should any of their siblings or other mantis individuals stray too close, they too will become prey and eaten.
It has few natural threats in the form of predation. Tarantulas have been known to eat them and vice versa, usually when one is smaller than the other. Some bird species also prey upon the mantises as they sit in wait for passing by insects. However, little is known about the current overall status of this species. Although very rarely seen in the wild, there are cases of wild caught individuals being collected and sold to hobbyists, but it is currently unknown as to whether this poses any threat to the wild populations.