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the web of life in southern Africa

Mantodea (mantids, praying mantis)

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Ecdysozoa > Panarthropoda > Tritocerebra > Arthopoda > Mandibulata > Atelocerata > Panhexapoda > Hexapoda > Insecta (insects) > Dictyoptera

There are about 1,800 species of mantids worldwide, falling in eight families, with a concentration of species in the tropics. Africa (including Madagascar) boasts the greatest diversity, with about 880 within 156 genera (54 of these genera are endemic to Madagascar); Asia follows with 530 species in 144 genera, the Americas with 410 species in 96 genera with a few of these reaching the United States.  Europe only has 24 species contained in 13 genera. 

Mantodea is a name derived from the Greek word meaning prophet or soothsayer. This is probably because of the mantid's way of sitting with their legs held up in front of their face, as if in prayer.

Mantids are commonly placed in their own order but in fact genetic, morphological and biological evidence shows that they evolved from a cockroach-like ancestor and are more logically placed in a larger taxon, called the Dictyoptera (sometimes classed as a superorder), which includes the cockroaches, mantids and termites.

Learn more about the Mantodea biology (body structure, life cycle, egg laying, mating etc)

Families that occur in southern Africa

Family: Amorphoscelidae

No image available

Family: Empusidae

Family: Hymenopodidae

Family: Iridopterygidae

No image available

Family: Mantidae

Family: Sibyllidae

Family: Tarachodidae

No image available

Family: Thespidae


Our thanks to Drs Picker, Griffiths and Weaving for permission to use their images from their Field Guide to Insects of South Africa.


  • Picker, M., Griffiths, C. & Weaving, A. 2002. Field Guide to Insects of South Africa. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.

  • Scholtz, C. & Holm, E. 1985. Insects of Southern Africa. Butterworths Professional Publishers (Pty) Ltd, Durban.

  • Preston-Mafham, K. 1992. Grasshoppers & Mantids of the World. Blandford, U.K.

 This mantid site was developed by Dawn Larsen