9 of the Most Absurd-Looking Mantis Species

A Malaysian orchid mantis sits on a yellow flower.

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Mantises are something of an eccentric in the world of insects. They can fly — the males can, at least — but more often move slowly among shrubs and flowers. They can be fearsome hunters, but usually wait for their prey to find them. Most of all, they are hyper-adapted to their environments, and there are more than 2,000 species of mantises, each with the looks and skills they need to thrive in their corner of the world. They all share the distinctive bent forelegs and long abdomens, but each has singular adaptations that make it both fearsome hunter and elusive prey.

Boasting odd spikes, bold stripes, and spot-on mimicry, these nine mantis species have some of nature's best camouflage.

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Spiny Flower Mantis

A spiny flower mantis with a spiky abdomen sits atop a flower bud.

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The spiny flower mantis (Pseudocreobotra wahlbergii) hails from sub-Saharan Africa and features prominent eyespots on its wings to deter predators. It grows to between one and two inches — making it one of the smaller mantis species — but it is still a capable predator itself. The intricate spikes and dappled green-and-white coloration it sports blends into surrounding flora so well that some insects will attempt to pollinate them, which ends in a meal for the mantis rather than successful pollination.

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Devil's Flower Mantis

A devil's flower mantis on a green leaf appears to glow in sunlight.

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The devil's flower mantis (Idolomantis diabolica) is another species native to sub-Saharan Africa, but one that grows to a much larger size. Adult females, which are larger than males, can be five inches long. A defining characteristic is its defensive display, in which it raises its forelegs to reveal a stark black-and-white underside and appear larger than it truly is. Thanks to its intense coloration and dramatic displays, it's a popular pet, and thousands are imported to Western countries every year. 

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Ghost Mantis

A ghost mantis, which looks like a dry leaf, blends into its background of brown leaves.
This ghost mantis is characterized by its incredible camouflage, giving the appearance of dead dried up leaves.

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The ghost mantis (Phyllocrania paradoxa) is an African mantis species remarkable for its leaflike body. It even has pigment variations that resemble the veins of a leaf, perfecting its disguise against birds and other would-be predators. It's considered a miniature species, rarely growing more than two inches long. It's another popular pet species, especially because lack of aggression toward its own species means they can co-exist in captivity. 

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European Mantis

Praying mantis facing camera with front legs up

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At times, the name praying mantis might be used to describe any of the mantid species, but if you live in the United States, chances are it's referring to the European mantis (Mantis religiosa). This distinctive species is the most common mantis in Europe, North America, Asia, Africa, and Australia. Though it's usually bright green, it can range in color from yellow to dark brown. Even this common species has a few bizarre characteristics, including a mobile head (they can look behind them, a unique skill among insects) and a propensity for sexual cannibalism, in which the female is likely to kill and eat the male after mating.

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Conehead Mantis

A pink-hued Conehead mantis perches on a stick.

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A native of the Mediterranean, the conehead mantis (Empusa pennata) is easily distinguished by its protruding crown and feathery antennae, which give it an alien appearance. It can grow to over four inches in length and is a prodigious predator capable of taking down prey its own size. Like all mantises, it catches prey through stalking, pouncing, and gripping its victims in spinelike front legs. 

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Malaysian Orchid Mantis

A Malaysian orchid mantis is well-camouflaged where it sits on a drooping orchid flower.

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The Malaysian orchid mantis (Hymenopus coronatus) is an amazing example of camouflage, with legs like petals and soft pink coloration. It lives, of course, in Malaysia, as well as in other Southeast Asian countries. It hides in flowers and tree limbs, turning brown if the environment calls for it. All of this disguise is a powerful predatory tactic, causing unsuspecting flying insects to land, literally, in its waiting arms. 

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Shield Mantis

A green shield mantis disguises itself on a leaf in Peru

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Like other mantis species, the shield mantis (Choeradodis rhombicollis) has a super-realistic leafy appearance. But unlike some species, the shield mantis doesn't devote its entire body to the disguise. Instead, its upper leafy look hides an ordinary undercarriage. This Central and South American native can also vibrate and shake its body to replicate a leaf moving in the wind. Once situated, this large mantis adopts a "sit and wait" hunting tactic, and can feed on prey as large as lizards and hummingbirds. 

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Dragon Mantis

A dragon mantis with brown and green coloration sits on a tree stump.

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The dragon mantis (Stenophylla cornigera) is a particularly elusive species, expertly hidden in the dense foliage of the Brazilian Atlantic rainforest. It's so hard to spot, in fact, that researchers aren't sure how many are out there — it could be that the species is incredibly rare or that it's incredibly hard to find. During a 2019 expedition, entomologists tracked down two adult males at night using a light trap, proving their theory that this nocturnal species navigates by moonlight.

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Dead Leaf Mantis

A dead leaf mantis blends with the dead brown leaf it perches on.

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The dead leaf mantis (Acanthops falcata) is similar to the ghost mantis, but with a few differences worth noting. For one, its homeland is South America, rather than Africa. It's also unique in that it displays sexual dimorphism — where the males and females of the species look different — to a greater extent than other mantises. The smaller males have a flattened thorax and resemble a flat leaf, while the flightless but larger females look like a curled leaf, and flash prominent orange warning colors under their unusable wings. 

View Article Sources
  1. "Eyespots." Sibley Nature Center, 2017.

  2. Vidal-García, Marta, et al. "The Evolution of Startle Displays: A Case Study in Praying Mantises." Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, vol. 287, no. 1934, 2020, p. 20201016., doi:10.1098/rspb.2020.1016

  3. "Dragons and Unicorns (Mantises) Spotted in Atlantic Forest." World Land Trust, 2019.