A Staff Report from the Straight Dope Science Advisory Board

Is it illegal to kill praying mantises?

November 8, 1999

Dear Straight Dope:

I was out with a group of people when someone mentioned praying mantises. He said that it was illegal to kill them. Several other people said that they had also heard this and thought it was true. I have never heard anything like this and can find no reference to it. What is up with this story?

I heard this story all through my childhood too. My mother perpetrated the myth that it was illegal to kill them in New York. According to the Department of Agriculture, it is not illegal anywhere to kill a praying mantis, even in Connecticut, where it is the official state insect.

It is of course ill-advised to kill them, being the pest-consumers and all around neat insects that they are--those human-like swivelly necks, those eye pupils that dilate at night. (Actually, Doug the Straight Dope bug guy says mantises don't have pupils, and neither do any other insects. What appear to be pupils, and the apparent dilation thereof, are an optical illusions.  Doug wants to be the boss of insects.)  But among their own kind, spousal homicide (entomocide?)--specifically wives consuming their husbands (or lovers)--is not only legal but common, as one can read in this classic Straight Dope column: http://www.straightdope.com/classics/ a2_007.html. We had the good (?) fortune to actually witness this first hand last week, when my children and I introduced a mate to the female we keep in a tank at home. Actually we gave (or rather fed) her two of them.  The first she ate right away from the abdomen up, holding him just like a hot dog. The second she allowed to mate with her, and that boy got his money's worth before his unfortunate demise. The mating took over six hours, then she turned around and plucked his head off and ate it like an apple. Hell of a way to teach your kids about the "birds and the bees."

SDSTAFF Ed adds:

Yeah, pets are great that way. We bought the kids a hamster--a female, which predictably turned out to be pregnant. There were three babies (that we saw, anyway); one of these had disappeared by the next day. The pet shop informed us the mother had probably eaten the missing baby, and that we had better keep the three remaining family members separate (we now had both male and female hamsters), lest they mate and produce still more babies. So we learned all about incest and cannibalism, things every kid should know.

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