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What Time is it in Nature: Stick Mantid

October 4, 2014

Fall is approaching, and with the cooler weather comes a really cool insect: the Stick Mantid (Brunneria borealis)!  They and other mantids become very abundant, and therefore more obvious, in the prairie at this time of year.

Stick Mantid, Brunneria borealis

The Stick Mantid, also known as Brunner’s Mantis or Northern Grass Mantid, is a member of the mantid order of insects and share the long, narrow body common of many of our North American mantid species, typically reaching lengths of 2.5-3.5 inches.  Unlike the other American mantids, however, the forelegs are long and thin and give the Stick Mantids the appearance of walkingsticks.  This characteristic is reflected in their common name.  Stick Mantids also have broad segments at the base of their antennae, fine serrations along their thorax, and very short wings.  Though many mantid species are quite capable of flight, this species is flightless.

All but one species within the genus Brunneria are found in South America in the tropics or subtropics.  Brunneria borealis is the only Brunneria species in the US and is found in many areas of the southeastern US from North Carolina west to Texas.  It also reaches into northern Mexico.  The species name, borealis, refers to the fact that this species has the northernmost range of the Brunneria: borealis is Latin for “northern.”

Like other mantids and in spite of their spindly looking forelegs, Stick Mantids are fierce predators, stalking other insects as food within their habitats.  They prefer meadows with tall grasses, especially those containing the grass Little Bluestem, where they blend in quite well.  Stick Mantids are often found lurking among grass stalks as they hunt.  They are thought to feed primarily on grasshoppers, katydids, and crickets, but surprisingly little is known about these charismatic and unusual insects, including their typical diet.

Stick Mantids have a very interesting form of reproduction: parthenogenesis.  Male Stick Mantids have never been found, so females lay unfertilized eggs that are clones of their parent and all offspring produced are girls.  The eggs are laid inside a foamy secretion that hardens into an ootheca (often called an egg case), like other mantids.  However, the Stick Mantid ootheca has a distinctly pointed end unique to this species.  The egg cases are laid in the fall, and the immatures will hatch out of the egg case through the pointed tip the following summer.  Mantid enthusiasts report that, at least in captivity, Stick Mantid immatures do not hatch all at once like most mantids and instead hatch just a few at a time over a period of 2-4 months.

Stick Mantids are quite abundant in the prairie at this time of year!  They’re hard to see due to their incredible camouflage, but you can find many of them on the grounds if you look hard enough.  Looking out for other large insects, the Stick Mantid prey, can help you find them more easily.  You never know when you’ll see a mantid reach out and grab a grasshopper.  The Stick Mantids are typically only active for about a month from mid-September through mid-October, so be sure to look our for them on your next visit to Prairie Ridge!

What Time is it in Nature is a weekly feature highlighting the current plants, animals, and other wildlife at the Museum’s public outdoor facility, Prairie Ridge Ecostation. Find out more about the natural happenings at Prairie Ridge at our What Time is it in Nature Archive!

Photo by Chris Goforth

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