What is the difference between a walking stick and a praying mantis?

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Walking sticks and praying mantises often capture our attention due to their unique appearances and behaviors. At first glance, they seem similar, but these two insect species have distinct characteristics that set them apart.

Walking sticks and praying mantis are different insects, belonging to different orders. Walking sticks are herbivorous while praying mantis are carnivorous. They both camouflage in nature but walking sticks hide from predators while praying mantis hide to capture prey.

In the following, we will delve into the differences between these two insect species. We will look into physical characteristics, feeding and hunting behavior, habitat, and distribution, as well as the life cycles.

Summary: Main Differences between Praying Mantis and Walking Sticks

Walking Sticks
Synonym: Stick Insect, Stick-Bug, Stick Animal, Bug Sticks, Ghost Insects
Praying Mantis
Synonym: Mantis, Mantis religiosa

Classification / Order
Class: Insecta
Superorder: Orthopterida
Order: Phasmatodea / Phasmida
Class: Insecta
Suborder: Dictyoptera
Order: Mantodea
Physical CharacteristicsSize: 0.6 in – 25 in (approx. 1.5cm-63)

Appearance: Long, thin bodies and legs, long and slender antennae
Camouflage themselves in trees and bushes

Wings: Wings / Reduced Wings / Wingless
Eyes: Compound Eyes
Size: 0.4 in – 7 in (approx. 1cm- 18cm)

Triangular heads and bulging eyes, long forearms that can be folded and are used to hunt prey, long slender body
Camouflage themselves in trees, bushes, flowers

Wings: Long-winged / short-winged / vestigial-winged / wingless
Feeding and Hunting BehaviorHerbivorousCarnivorous (only feed on live prey) and cannibalistic
HabitatMost abundant in the tropics and subtropics. Especially Southeast Asia, South America, Australia, Central America, and Southern USMost abundant in tropical and subtropical regions in Asia, but some species can also be found in deserts, grasslands, and meadow-lands.
Defense mechanismsCamouflage; Threatening predators by standing tall, spreading forelegs, and fanning out the wings; some species can fly awayCamouflage; Threatening predators by standing tall, spreading forelegs and fanning out the wings; some species can fly away
Reproduction and Life CycleMany walking stick species can reproduce through parthenogenesis. The species that can reproduce through parthenogenesis can also reproduce sexually and the eggs will hatch into both males and females.

The females drop individual eggs that often look like seeds.

Life cycle with 3 stages: Egg, Nymph, Adult
Known for sexual cannibalism = the female eats the male during or after mating.
The female praying mantis lay oothecae (= egg case) and sticks them to twigs, and branches. An ootheca contains several individual eggs that will hatch simultaneously.

Only a few species can reproduce through parthenogenesis and only one species (Brunneria Borealis) is known for reproducing only through parthenogenesis. In this species, no males are known.

Life cycle in 3 stages: Eggs in ootheca, Nymph, Adult


Even though the praying mantis and walking sticks do share some similarities, they belong to different orders with the praying mantis belonging to Mantodea and the walking sticks to Phasmatodea.
That means that praying mantis are closer related to termites and cockroaches than to stick insects.
The walking sticks on the other hand are very closely related to leaf-bug, which are insects that camouflage themselves between leafs. The main characteristic of insects in the order of Phasmatodea is the skill of camouflaging themselves in bushes and trees to become almost invisible to predators.

Physical Characteristics

Walking sticks and praying mantis do share some physical similarities, but they have also distinct characteristics that set them apart.

Physical characteristics of walking sticks

Walking sticks have long and thin bodies that resemble twigs or branches, allowing them to blend seamlessly with their surroundings. The key characteristics include the elongated body shape, as well as the long and slender legs that are adapted for slow and deliberate movements and contribute to their twig-like appearance. They have long, thread-like antennae and chewing mouth-parts that help them efficiently consume plant material. Some species have wings, others have shortened wings that cannot be used for flying, and some are wingless. Many walking stick species can grow way larger than any praying mantis species.

Physical characteristics of praying mantis

The praying mantis also camouflages themselves within plants, but they do that with the intention of hunting living prey. They, too, have an elongated bodies, but other than walking sticks they have highly specialized forelegs for hunting. The forelegs can be folded and have sharp spines or spikes that help them to capture and hold the prey during feeding. Praying mantis are also known for their triangular head and a pair of large compound eyes. The head is capable of swiveling up to 180 degrees, providing exceptional vision and enabling them to track and locate prey. Many praying mantis species have two pairs of wings as adults. The front wings are narrow and leathery, providing protection for the hind wings. The hind wings are broad and used for flight. Not all praying mantis species have wings and some of the species with wings cannot use them for flying. Just like walking sticks, praying mantis also have antennae, but their antennae are much shorter relative to their body size.

Feeding and Hunting Behaviors

The biggest difference between walking sticks and praying mantis is the fact that walking sticks are herbivorous and only feed on plant material while praying mantis are carnivorous and only feed on living prey.

Feeding behavior of walking sticks

The diet of walking sticks predominantly consists of foliage, leaves, and sometimes even bark. They use their mimicry to resemble twigs or branches. This disguise allows them to avoid detection by predators and feed undisturbed on leaves. They also move slowly while feeding which aids in their camouflage.

Feeding behavior of praying mantises

Praying mantis have a very different approach to their feeding behavior. They are ambush predators that rely on stealth and camouflage to capture their living prey. They patiently wait while blending in seamlessly with their surrounding until prey comes within striking distance. Praying mantis have a triangular head with large eyes that provide excellent vision. This eyesight is helpful to detect and track potential prey and perceive movements from a distance. The prey comes within range, and praying mantises employ very fast strikes using their specialized forelegs which are equipped with sharp spikes. They can grasp and immobilize the prey, preventing escape. Praying mantis are known for sexual cannibalism. In many species, the females tend to attack and consume the male mating partner during or after mating. It provides the female with vital nutrients for egg production.

Habitat and Distribution

Both walking sticks and praying mantis can be found in places with lots of nature. They tend to live in trees, bushes, shrubs, and other plants that allow them to camouflage and hide. Most walking stick and praying mantis species live in tropical and subtropical regions. The rich vegetation supports the diet of both insects.

Some walking stick and praying mantis species have adapted to human-altered environments and can be found in parks, gardens, and other green spaces with suitable vegetation.

Praying mantis have occupied more different regions globally than walking sticks, which stick primarily to the tropical and subtropical regions. Depending on the species, praying mantis can be found in areas with moderate to high temperatures ranging from tropical rainforests to temperate grasslands. They need habitats with abundant vegetation, including forests, gardens, grasslands, and meadows.

Reproduction and Life Cycle

Both walking sticks and praying mantis undergo three life cycles: Egg, nymph, and adult.

But there are many differences between the reproduction and life cycle of walking sticks and praying mantises.

Sexual reproduction and parthenogenesis

Let’s start with reproduction. Most walking stick and praying mantis species reproduce sexually, requiring both male and female individuals for fertilization to occur. There are some species for both praying mantis and walking sticks, that can reproduce through parthenogenesis. Only one praying mantis species is known for exclusively reproducing through parthenogenesis, while there are several walking stick species that reproduce without a male individual. Females that did not mate can lay eggs, and the nymphs that hatch are only female.

Mating and egg laying

The mating rituals are different between walking sticks and praying mantises. Walking sticks mate and the females lay the eggs near suitable vegetation. Eggs are often laid in clusters or individually, or simply dropped to the ground.

The mating ritual of the praying mantis is a little more brutal. Most praying mantis species are known for sexual cannibalism. That means that the females tend to attack and consume the male during or after courtship. In some cases, they even eat the male before mating. After successful copulation, the females lay fertilized eggs in a protective case called ootheca which is usually attached to vegetation, branches, or other suitable surfaces. The ootheca safeguards the eggs until they hatch.

Nymph Stage

Once the eggs hatch, walking sticks and praying mantis hatch as nymphs and undergo multiple molts, growing in size and maturity with every molt. During the molt, they shed their exoskeletons to accommodate their growth. They reach adulthood after the last molt.

Adult Stage

During the last molt, both walking sticks and praying mantis develop their wings (only those species that have wings), and are able to reproduce. This last stage in the life cycle usually lasts several months, depending on the species. As adults, they will try to mate, reproduce, and lay eggs to secure the survival of the species.

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