The Debunker: Are Praying Mantises Protected by Law?

by Ken Jennings

Ah, June. The bees are buzzing, the crickets are chirping, the fireflies are glowing, and the June bugs are—doing whatever June bugs do, I guess? It's their month. In the United Kingdom, the connection between summer and the insect kingdom has been formalized by turning the last week of June into National Insect Week. We're also celebrating our six-legged friends all month, and we've called in Ken Jennings (not an insect, but at least a WASP) as a guest expert. He tells us that our insect knowledge has a few bugs.

The Debunker: Are Praying Mantises Protected by Law?

I've already debunked one common mistake in the title, which in my opinion puts me way ahead of the game already. The name of the insect is often incorrectly spelled "preying mantis," and that's understandable, since mantises are famed for their ability to eat other bugs and even each other. (The female mantis will often devour her mate after sex, a dream come true if the male mantis is a "vore" fetishist, but a pretty raw deal otherwise.) But no, the name refers to the posture of the insect's bent forearms, which look a little like hands clasped in prayer.

mantises forever

The human-like (and religious!) posture of the mantis may be what led to a tradition in many ancient cultures, from Greece to Egypt to China, that this insect is a noble and perhaps even magical creature. That tradition is probably the source for the modern belief that mantises are protected by law, an urban legend I remember from my childhood. Or maybe that's common-sense advice due to the insects' value to modern gardeners. A single mantis will eat its own weight in garden pests, from aphids to yellow jackets, ever single day!

But a search of animal protection statutes will reveal that kindness to mantises is not a legal imperative. It may bring good karma and healthier gardens, of course! But there's no special legal protection for the praying mantis anywhere—not even in Connecticut, where it's the state insect. That said, the "Red List," a catalog of threatened animals kept by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, does list thirteen mantis species that merit special concern. Among the most critical are the canary dwarf mantis, which lives only one of Spain's Canary Islands, and the spined dwarf mantis, which hasn't been seen for years in its native Tolentino, Italy, and may be extinct. I will personally come after you if you mess with one of those guys.

Quick Quiz: Mantis, played by French actress Pom Klementieff, is one of the new characters introduced in what hit 2017 movie?

Ken Jennings is the author of eleven books, most recently his Junior Genius Guides, Because I Said So!, and Maphead. He's also the proud owner of an underwhelming Bag o' Crap. Follow him at ken-jennings.com or on Twitter as @KenJennings.