When it comes to insects, the praying mantis is the strangest of the bunch. The mantis walks with a slow deliberation, hiding in plain sight, often unnoticed by even the most observant of nature's explorers. Despite its bulging eyes, menacing forelegs and strange demeanor, it's not the strangest member of the order. It gets even better.
The mantis order of insects consists of more than 2,000 species, each having the characteristic bent forelegs and long, stretching bodies. Boasting odd spikes, bold stripes and spot-on mimicry, these mantises are some of nature's most unusual creations.
Spiny flower mantis
The spiny flower mantis (the nymph of which is featured at top) are a tiny and incredible species, with a spiky underbelly and fascinating wing design. The eyespots on its wings are reminiscent of the number 9 and serve to deter predators. But these creatures are vicious predators themselves, blending into branches and flowers so well that some insects will attempt to pollinate them — to the pollinators' demise.
Devil's flower mantis
Alone on a tree, the devil's flower mantis is a beautiful array of greens, blues and purples. But in threat mode (at right), it's easy to understand how this creature got its name, Idolomantis diabolica. With forelegs raised, the peculiar thorax and abdomen are exposed. If the predator's not scared, it certainly must be confused!
The ghost mantis is an uncanny leaf mimic from head to toe, complete with intricate veins and an impressive hairdo.
This purple beauty stands out with long, fuzzy antennae. Slender as a stem, this mantis's coloration helps it hide among flowers and leaves alike.
Photo: Ferran Pestaña/flickr
Empusa fasciata's cousin, Empusa pennata, is alien-like in its spiky form. Of course, this critter lives among rough grass and flowering plants, hiding behind the flowers for unsuspecting prey.
Malaysian orchid mantis
The orchid mantis is a pretty little species, with legs like petals and soft pink coloration. This insect hails from the Asian rain forest, where it hides in the orchids or among the trees, turning brown if the environment calls for it. Pretty though it may be, the main function for this mantis's looks is to lure in prey.
This species of praying mantis has adapted for its Central American environment. Instead of every part of its body mimicking a leaf, he has a rather normal-looking body underneath a shiny leaf hood.
This stick mantis is almost crab-like in its colorful patterns, striking eyes, and the way it holds its forelegs. It has an unusually long body, barely resembling an insect at all!
Photo: Moisés Silva Lima/flickr
Dead leaf mantis
The Batman of the mantis crew, the dead leaf mantis is dark and brooding. It never looks out of place — safe among branches as well as on the forest floor.