Stick Insect vs Praying Mantis – What is the Difference?
Stick insects are somewhat similar to praying mantises, so it’s not difficult to understand why so many people confuse them. That being said, there are more differences between them than similarities, some of which are radical.
Let’s see where these 2 species diverge and where they share similar attributes and features.
Is a Stick Insect the Same as a Praying Mantis?
No. The praying mantis belongs to the Mantodea order, with the Mantidae family being the largest one known so far. You can choose from around 2,400 species of mantids, spread across 460 genera and 33 different types of families. Despite some physical similarities to the stick insect, the praying mantis is related to termites and cockroaches.
The differences between the 2 species go deeper than just biological classification. They also display different diets, reproductive behavior, and personalities.
The stick insect belongs to the Phasmatodea order, divided into several families and genera. They have adapted to all environmental conditions but prefer tropical and subtropical settings. We recognize more than 3,000 species of stick insects, with many others still unclassified.
So far, both insect species display an impressive diversity of species, families, and genera.
What is a Praying Mantis?
The praying mantis is a Mantodea, a carnivorous predator specialized in hunting arthropods. Its body is very similar to a stick insect in the sense that it’s slender with thin legs and a prolonged abdomen.
The praying mantis is easily recognizable via its front legs that remain usually folded and which the mantis will use to hunt or pose when threatened. Its abdomen is also more inflated with long wings than the stick insect’s slim and uniform body.
The praying mantis will display various colors and body shapes depending on the species. To name a few common species:
- African Mantis – Green or brown, capable of reaching 3 inches in length with a massive abdomen, covered by its wide wings.
- Dead Leaf Mantis – This species is also among the largest available. Females can reach 3.5 inches and will display a leaf-like camouflage. You can find it in various shades of brown, with a leafy pattern.
- Orchid Mantis – This is one of the most popular species thanks to its resemblance to an orchid. The Orchid mantis comes in several color variations, like pink, purple, white, and light brown.
What is a Stick Insect?
The stick insect is a Phasmatodea, an order of insects containing more than 3,000 highly adaptable and diverse stick insects species. The stick insect comes in various shapes, colors, sizes, and behaviors. Some stick insects are so wildly different in terms of looks that they seem to be completely different creatures, in no way related to other stick insects.
This insect species is exclusively herbivorous and has adopted impressive defensive tactics to protect itself from predators. Its camouflaging abilities expand to incorporate its appearance as well as its behavior. Some stick insects resemble sticks, while others resemble leaves and will go so far as to mimic twigs struck by wind when walking.
Some interesting stick insect species include:
- Jungle Nymph – This species of stick insect is atypical, since it doesn’t even look like a stick insect. Its appearance diverges from the classic slender, twig-like look as the Jungle Nymph displays a bulgy abdomen with thick legs and a well-defined thorax. Green coloring.
- Giant Leaf Insect – The Giant Leaf Insect displays amazing camouflage, as its body is almost literally a giant leaf. The coloring is also incredibly fitting, resembling a dying green leaf. This insect’s camouflage makes it very difficult for predators to spot it in the wild.
- Giant Prickly Insect – Thick, thorny, with a scorpion-like pose. This stick insect has sacrificed some of its physical camouflage in the favor of species appropriation if you will. When threatened, the Prickly insect will pose as a scorpion, lifting its tail and spreading its legs to appear larger. You can find it in colors of brown, green, beige, and even lichen (milky white with black stripes here and there).
Similarities Between Stick Insect and Praying Mantis
Stick insects display both differences and similarities with the praying mantis. That being said, the latter are also important since they explain why so many people confuse the 2 species. Here are the most relevant similarities between stick insects and praying mantids:
- Appearance – Although they are not identical, their appearance is similar. Both species vary in size, and both are capable of reaching around 2 to 3 inches on average. Depending on the species, you can find both stick insects and praying mantids as small as 1 inch or as large as 5-6 inches. They also have similar-shaped bodies, albeit with some notable differences. Generally speaking, stick insects are thinner and slender-like, while praying mantids are overall slightly fuller.
- Camouflage – Both species display camouflaging abilities, mimicking their habitat’s coloring and shape and blend in. Praying mantids tend to mimic plants, while stick insects mimic sticks and leaves.
- Environmental requirements – Stick insects and praying mantids require similar living conditions. They prefer warm, humid, tropical environments, especially due to them being shedding species. They require the extra warmth and humidity to aid in the molting process.
- Coloring – Both species display similar colors, mainly green and brown, with notable variations along the way. Some stick insects will also display white and black or black and red combinations, while praying mantids may come in white, pink, light green, yellow, etc.
- Molting – Both species undergo molting, which is the act of shedding the old exoskeleton in favor of a new one. The underlying exoskeleton will develop under the old one, eventually triggering the shedding process, which may last several hours. Both insects require humidity and warmth to escape their old skin safely without any complications.
Differences Between Stick Insect and Praying Mantis
Since they are different species belonging to different orders, stick insects and praying mantids will display significantly more differences than similarities. These include:
- Diet – The stick insect is strictly herbivorous. It will only consume plants, and at no point will it eat other insects, even it the alternative is starving to death. Praying mantids are strictly carnivorous. They rank as ambush predators. Praying mantids will either ambush their prey by staying and allow the prey to come to them or stalk it via slow movement to prevent detection. Praying mantids are highly effective predators, capable of killing a variety of creatures, including birds and small mammals.
- Breeding – Stick insects reproduce mostly via parthenogenesis. This means that unfertilized eggs will still produce offspring, except they will all be females. Fertilized eggs have 50% chance of producing a male. The stick insect will lay up to 150 eggs in one go. This explains why some species of stick insects seem to lack males altogether. Praying mantids reproduce sexually. The female is significantly larger and more aggressive than the male and will often cannibalize the male during copulation. This will provide the female with the nutrients necessary to produce the eggs. The female praying mantis will lay up to 400 eggs at once.
- Environmental roles – Many species of stick insects rank as a pest, since they have an impressive appetite and will consume a variety of plants. Mantids, on the other hand, ranks as a pest control species. The praying mantis will consume a variety of bugs that may damage the environment, including stick insects. These 2 species are part of the same food chain, with the praying mantis located higher than the stick insect.
Interesting Facts About Stick Insects:
- We have not observed males in the wild for some species of stick insects
- The stick insect can play dead for hours if threatened
- Stick insects can detect echolocation used by bats to know when they are close; they will use this knowledge to change position, fall to the ground, or play dead to avoid becoming actually dead
- Some species of stick insects, like the Giant Prickly insect, will pose like a scorpion to intimidate potential predators
- Other species, like the Black Velvet, will spray a poisonous substance at its attackers
- Stick insects can regrow lost limbs gradually during subsequent molting phases
Interesting Facts About Praying Mantids:
- Mantids were once believed to be the reincarnation of the trickster deity IKaggen; various civilizations also believed mantids had supernatural powers like guiding lost souls to the underworld
- Praying mantids have inspired the emergence of 2 martial arts in China, namely Northern and Southern Praying Mantis
- The offspring of the praying mantis may cannibalize each other upon hatching
- Mantises eat their prey alive; in captivity, they might refuse food if the food is dead
- The praying mantis has 5 eyes; 2 larger, compound ones, and 3 simple ones located in between
Do Praying Mantis Eats Stick Insects?
Yes, praying mantis will eat a stick insect without any problems whatsoever. Praying mantids will hunt and consume pretty much anything that moves, including butterflies, beetles, spiders, crickets, etc. Larger species of mantids will even eat small birds and rodents, provided they are weak enough for the insect to immobilize them.
Stick insects have no change against these formidable predators. Also, keep in mind that stick insects only rely on their camouflage to avoid predation. If the mantis can see through their camouflage and the stick insect has nowhere to run, their time is up.
This means you should not house stick insects and praying mantids together under any circumstance.
Praying mantids and stick insects are both fascinating creatures for different reasons. They are both easy to care for and don’t need too much space to feel comfortable and at peace.
House them in a warm and humid environment, provide them with fresh food, and supervise their activity daily to ensure they remain happy and healthy. You may need to resort to more careful monitoring during the shedding phases since insects are more vulnerable during that time.