European praying mantis may be breeding in UK due to global warming

The voracious praying mantis is thought to be gaining a foothold in the UK, with one of the insects caught in Warwickshire and others reportedly breeding outside (Photo: Getty)

A European praying mantis was captured in Stratford-upon-Avon as the carnivorous insects show signs of gaining a foothold in the UK.

The voracious predators are extremely rare, but a find was made in Warwickshire this summer and reported to be breeding outdoors for the first time.

The adolescent male was discovered in August, before it had developed wings, and was cared for under tropical conditions at Stratford Butterfly Farm until the end of its season.

The specimen was found at Bordon Hill Nurseries, an ornamental plant wholesaler, and cared for in tropical conditions a few miles away at the popular visitor attraction.

Named for the long legs it uses to catch and impale prey, the pale green European praying mantis can feast on a wide variety of other species.

The female may also bite off the male’s head during mating before completing the breeding process with the dismembered body still functioning.

The captive praying mantis was named Clare after one of the employees of the visitor attraction and was shown to the public in the MiniBeast Metropolis before reaching the end of its life in November.

The European praying mantis gets its name from its hunting technique with its long front legs (Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The European praying mantis gets its name from its hunting technique with its long front legs (Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

A praying mantis and an ant go toe-to-toe (Picture: Deni Alispurata/Caters News)

A praying mantis and an ant go toe-to-toe (Picture: Deni Alispurata/Caters News)

Jane Kendrick, marketing manager at Stratford Butterfly Farm said: ‘We were delighted to have rehomed this beautiful European praying mantis in October.

“It’s probably been quite a journey as they are not native to the UK. Unfortunately they don’t live long and it passed away a few weeks ago.’

Although it is not known how the praying mantis ended up in the plant center, the find comes in a year that also saw the first known successful outdoor propagation.

Richard Lewington initially observed several adult praying mantises in a garden in Cholsey, South Oxfordshire, in September 2020.

The owner of the garden contacted him this year after the householder spotted a nymph, the name for a young praying mantis.

British magazine Wildlife reported: ‘Richard returned to the site and after a search found a two-inch long nymph. This appears to be the first time this species has been successfully bred in the wild in the UK.’

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A European praying mantis found in Warwickshire was named Clare and was kept at Stratford Butterfly Farm (Photo: Stratford Butterfly Farm)

dr. Björn Beckmann, of the Biological Records Center at the Center for Ecology & Hydrology in Edinburgh, told Metro.co.uk there were many reasons for the sighting of praying mantis in the UK. dr. Beckmann explained: ‘We have indeed had occasional data from the European praying mantis.

Praying mantises, including this species, are sometimes kept as pets, and the occasional sightings in Britain, especially when found in urban areas, have generally been either escapes from such captivity, or accidental introductions with imported plants.

“The species lays eggs in a type of cocoon called an ‘ootheca’, which attaches to plants and is easily transported with them. The adults die in late fall and the eggs survive the winter in the ootheca and hatch the following spring or early summer.’

dr. However, Beckmann, who is also part of the Grasshoppers and Related Insects Recording Scheme, acknowledges that warmer weather may make the UK more attractive to insects.

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dr. Beckmann said: ‘It was always believed that the climate in Britain was too cold and wet for the European praying mantis to breed outdoors, but with climate change conditions have probably become more suitable, and there was a first record of successful outdoor reproduction this year.’

Recordings of real, free-flying praying mantises still remain rare, with one seen in a field in Hampshire in October 2015.

Gary Palmer, who discovered the male, said: ‘I was amazed at the strange flight of what appeared to be a large insect about 40 meters away, flying at head height in large circles over the meadow.

“When I immediately realized it wasn’t something I recognized, I ran over to it.

“As I got closer, it suddenly folded its wings and fell into the tall grass in front of me. Amazed at what I had found, I managed to catch it gently in my hands.’

Mantidae

The European praying mantis is believed to be present in Jersey and in the UK (Photo Paul Starosta/Getty Images)

Praying Mantis - Female in Defensive Position

A praying mantis woman in defensive position (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

dr. Beckmann doesn’t ignore the fact that the record – only the second of a free-flying, potentially migrating praying mantis in England – could be the result of a captivity escape.

But sightings on the coast, far from homes, give weight to the recordings because they tend towards praying mantises that have made the leap across the Channel.

The species has already populated the wild in France as far north as Normandy and there were a spate of discoveries in Jersey last year.

The insect is thought to be marching north through Europe and, with climate change, it is certainly only a matter of time before it gains a foothold in the UK.


The European praying mantis

The praying mantis is an invertebrate animal with the scientific name ‘praying mantis religiosa’.

The carnivore mainly preys on insects including crickets, grasshoppers, moths, butterflies, flies and bees.

The average lifespan in the wild is one year.

The female praying mantis is heavier and larger than the male, reaching a maximum length of about 9 cm compared to the male 7 cm.

They can rotate their triangular heads, mounted on long necks, 180 degrees to scan their surroundings.

They hunt by using their front legs to snare prey, using lightning-quick reflexes after stalking or jumping ambushes.

Their long front legs also have spikes for securing prey.

At rest, the insect stands upright and holds its front legs forward as if praying, giving the praying mantis its name.

Sources: National Geographic / Stratford Butterfly Farm

In addition, several native species of crickets and grasshoppers are currently extending their range north into Britain, and four new continental cricket species have arrived in Britain since 2000.

“Besides escapes from captivity and introductions with plants, there is a small possibility that individual insects could fly across the Channel with favorable winds, especially the males, who are much smaller and lighter than the females and clearly fly very well,” said doctor Beckmann.

‘The females are much heavier and don’t fly nearly as well, so successful colonization would probably depend on accidental introduction.

“These are interesting times for the species.”

The recording schedule collects sightings of grasshoppers, crickets and related species to facilitate their study and conservation. You can record observations here or with the iRecord app.

Do you have a story you want to share? Contact josh.layton@metro.co.uk

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