Both creepy and fascinating, the Carolina mantis, or praying mantis as it is more commonly known, became the official state insect in 1988, representing South Carolina as a symbol of the science of entomology. Scientifically named Stagmomantis carolina (Johannson), the praying mantis is native to North and Central America and can be found throughout South Carolina. They come in a variety of colors: gray, brownish-tan, yellow-green, and bright green.
Perhaps no other insect has inspired more sci-fi monster stereotypes than the praying mantis. Attached to its long arms are claws; protruding at the two top corners of its triangular head are beady eyes that can stare intently without moving; and they either quietly sneak up or sometimes fly to reach an intended target.
The insect’s nickname might be praying mantis because its claws are often drawn together as if in prayer. However, this voracious carnivore could aptly be called a “preying” mantis due to the 2- to 5-inch bug’s affinity for blood. They will capture live spiders, crickets, monarch butterflies, grasshoppers, even lizards and frogs, and begin eating them while still alive.
Unthinkably, praying mantis are also known to consume hummingbirds; the insects patiently lie in wait, looking like a twig or leaf, while an unsuspecting hummingbird drinks nectar from a flower. “They sit and wait for their meal to get within striking distance and grab the prey by the neck,” according to the Clemson Cooperative Extension’s report on mantids. “Sometimes, the male is eaten by the female during or after the mating process.”
Regardless of its bloodthirsty nature and eerie aesthetics, the South Carolina Legislature knew what it was doing when it selected praying mantis as a state symbol. The insect receives heaps of praise in the agricultural world for its ability to devour such critters as beetles and caterpillars that might wreak havoc on important crops. For more about backyard insects — the good, the bad, and the ugly — read Amanda McNulty’s article on page 98.