Mantids are fascinating insects that most everyone enjoys watching. Unlike their non-native "cousins" the praying mantis, our native ground mantids are smaller and brownish-grey in color. As their name implies, they tend to hang out on the ground, and as such, they are often overlooked.
Colorado is home to two species of ground mantids, Litaneutria minor (Scudder)and Yersiniops solitarium (Scudder). These species mainly occur at lower elevations in Colorado, on the eastern plains and along the western slope. These species are less than two inches in length when fully grown, and the adults are usually found hopping over rocks or walking over the ground in late summer. Females of both species are always wingless, while the males are usually wingless.
Litaneutria minor (Figure 1, left) is the larger of the Colorado's ground mantids, reaching as much as 1 3/4 inches when fully grown. The head of this brownish species is rounded above each of their compound eyes.
Yersiniops solitarium (Figure 1, right) measures 1 to 1 1/2 inches when fully grown. Note that their head is pointed above each compound eye. This species tend to be grayish in color.
As in other mantids, ground mantids lay their eggs in a protected mass known as an ootheca. This is how ground mantids spend the winter. In Spring, the nymphs hatch. They are small, but resemble the adults (Figure 2). Ground mantids prey on other insects. Their large compound eyes help to locate prey as it moves though their field of vision. Once prey is located, they use their raptorial forelegs to grab and hold their prey while they feast.
While Museum specimens, such as those in Figures 1 and 2, are invaluable to research, they do not always provide a good illustration of what critters look like in the wild. Figure 3 is a photo of Litaneutria minor taken in it's natural habitat. Notice how camouflaged the individual is. Next time you are out for a walk, look for these beneficial, Colorado native insects hiking along side you.
For more information on Colorado's mantids, see Colorado State University's, Cooperative Extension Service fact sheet, located at: http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/insect/05510.html