The praying mantis is one of the most striking insects found in the North American wild. Typically larger than other insects, the praying mantis has long claws, tapered body, flexible neck and large eyes. The praying mantis also makes an impression because of its reputation as an insect carnivore. Four species of the memorable insect make their home in Northern California, including the California mantis.
The California mantis lives along the Pacific coast into Northern California and Oregon. The species can be many different colors in order to blend into its different environments, including brown, yellow and green. The California mantis is smaller than some species, usually up to 2 1/2 inches long. Like other mantis species, the California mantis consists on a diet of other insects, often eating flying insects like butterflies and bees. The female typically eats the male after mating.
European mantises are usually longer than the California mantis, reaching up to 3 inches or longer. They are typically green, but can sometimes be mottled brown. Both colors help them when looking for other insects to eat. European mantises have spread all the way to the West Coast from New England, where they were accidentally introduced to the country in 1899. Some people had hoped the mantis would help stem the spread of gypsy moths.
Chinese mantises were imported to the United States in the 1800s for pest control and for people to keep as pets (a popular pastime in their native China). The Chinese mantis is notable among mantises because of its size, growing as long as four inches, and its coloration. The Chinese mantis has a green or tan body but has a distinct green line along its wings. Chinese mantises' eye color changes depending on the time of day, from black and dark brown to clear.
The Mediterranean mantis is another mantis introduced to the United States. The Mediterranean mantis was introduced in southern California and spread to other parts of the state, as well as the rest of the country. The Mediterranean is usually green, but has two distinguishing marks, the first a red-orange coloration on its abdomen and the other a pair of large purple-brown spots on its wings when they are unfolded.