Life cycle of Mantis Species from Resaca de la Palma State Parks (Part 11)
The reason for mismolting has never been properly studied or investigated scientifically. Generally, mismolting happens to individual
mantids that have either fallen sick or suffered from depauperation, which by speculation, might hinder the process of pumping blood
throughout the entire body via blood vessels and in the process, fail wing expansion since the veins have a diminished blood supply.
One can also speculate that extremely low humidity might contribute to mismolting, where mantids lose one or more legs during the
process. Mismolting sometimes occurs when a mantis falls during molting due to inadequate anchoring of the existing exoskeleton’s
legs that act as suspenders to carrying the entire weight of the mantis during the molting process. This type of mismolting is usually
fatal since the mantis loses the advantage of gravity, which helps to pull the new body out of its old exoskeleton, resulting in the mantis
being trapped in its own exoskeleton.

Mismolting of the two front legs is also considered fatal because the mantis loses its ability to capture food with deformed or missing
front legs and will eventually succumb to death due to starvation. However, if either one of the front legs is able to molt out unscathed,
the mantis would still be able to catch prey and survive. A deformed mantis is capable of regenerating missing legs through
subsequent molt(s), although sometimes it requires more than one molt to attain its original leg size. However, if the mantis loses any
legs during the last molt, that deformity remains with the mantis for the duration of its life.

Wild collected specimens
All collected mantids were adults, so there were no further moltings. The wild caught adult female specimens had ideal wings and
symmetrical legs, thus displayed no signs of mismoltings.

Captive bred specimens
Capturing the moment of molting has always been a challenge. It has been noted that most molts occurred during the night to avoid
predation when they were most vulnerable. The number of molts was documented in Table 2.5-1, where all captive bred females
required exactly seven molts to mature. The first six molts were uneventful with the mantis outgrowing its previous body size with
subsequent molts. The last molt required the most time, as previously mentioned, involving the additional task of expanding a pair
wings. Also, of all the molts, the last molt required the most time. From the beginning of the last molt, where the mantid’s existing
exoskeleton started to split on the thorax, to the time when the wings were folded, the completion of the tasks took at least 60-80
minutes. As usual, prior to the last molt, signs such as swollen budwings, loss of appetite, sluggishness, etc. indicated an impending
molt.

Similar to the previous six molts, the mantis molted out of its old exoskeleton by hanging downward during the last molt, taking
advantage of gravity to slip its new body out of the old skin. During the time when it was suspended while molting, only the claws on
both middle and hind legs, which hooked onto the molting surface, provided the support for the entire weight of the molting mantis. If
the claws slipped, the mantis would drop to the ground, becoming trapped in its own skin, which was always fatal.

If executed successfully, the suspended mantis will hang upside down, stretching out all the legs and abdomen as shown in Figure
2.7-4. The body color of the newly molted adult mantis was usually pale with a pair of compactly crumpled wings requiring expansion.
After about 15-20 minutes, when the new exoskeleton hardened and turned slightly darker in color, the adult mantis changed positions
(see Figure 2.7-5). This was to aid in the unfolding of the wrinkled wings. The body turned either vertically with the head facing upward,
or upside down to take advantage of the force of gravity for the expansion of the wings.
Figure 2.7-4: S. carolina last molt
hanging upside down
Figure 2.7-5: Last molt for a pair of S. carolina (Female on
the left with vertical position while male is on the right with
horizontal position hanging upside down.)
The mantises then proceeded to pump blood into the veins of the wings and continued spreading them until all four (4) wings were
fully expanded. The mantis then fluttered to facilitate the folding of the wings so that hind wings were tucked underneath the tegmina.
The newly formed wings remained pale in color for the first day, but eventually transformed into its permanent color, which was usually
darker, after approximately 48 hours.

Failure to molt successfully was not a common occurrence for the new generation that was housed individually. It was definitely not the
major contributor to the mortality rate. Of the captive bred specimens, only 1RS2 mismolted during the molt into the 7th instar (see
Figure 2.5-25). This particular mantis was feeding well, but having problems with the following molt by being trapped in its own
exoskeleton or exuvia. Apart from another specimen (1RS5), that was accidentally trapped by the honey, but molted out successfully,
the rest of the mantids were able to mature into adults without any molting problems.

For the other mantids that were housed together in the net cage, mismolting was noticeably infrequent. In most cases, it was due to
failure of emerging from its own exoskeleton during molting. However, there were few occasions when a molting mantis was attacked
by others and suffered serious lacerations that caused mismolting. In these cases, the cause of death fell under cannibalism instead
of mismolting. All things considered, it showed that when well fed, mantids seldom had problems with molting.

2.8        Food and feeding habit

General

All mantids feed on other insects, including their own species. S. carolina is also a carnivorous insect like other praying mantis. The
type and size of the prey is predominantly dependent upon the size of the mantis. Usually mantids avoid prey larger than themselves,
although occasionally ravenous mantids are capable of taking down larger prey exceeding their size.

In captivity, mantids are furnished with food based on its stage (or size). The common food for S. carolina hatchlings, or early instar
nymphs, is fruit flies. The commercially available fruit flies are either Drosophila melanogaster or Drosophila hydei that are usually
available in the wingless or flightless strains. Hatchlings of Acheta domesticus (cricket) could be offered to smaller mantids. When
nymphs reach medium size, at around the 3rd of 4th instar, house flies (Musca domestica) are the more appropriately sized food
source. In addition, medium sized crickets are fed to the S. carolina mantis at that stage. House flies could be used as staple food
supply for the mantis, but it is preferable to provide a variety of flying insects. Other commercially available flies, such as bluebottle flies
(Calliphora vomitoria) and soldier flies (Stratiomyidae), are also fed to the larger or adult S. carolina mantis. Adult sized crickets can
also be offered, but they have been known to prey upon the mantis, so never leave an excessive amount crickets with the mantis. In the
wild, food often is unavailable to the mantis, driving the mantis to prey upon other available insects, such as butterflies, bees, dragon
flies, moths, etc., in large quantities.

The following are photographs of typical mantids’ foods in captivity.
Figure 2.8-1: Fruit fly (flightless)
Figure 2.8-2: Fruit fly (wingless)
Figure 2.8-3: House fly
Figure 2.8-4: Bluebottle fly
Figure 2.8-5: Soldier fly
Figure 2.8-6: Crickets
Figure 2.8-7: Bluebottle and house fly comparison
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To be continue - Part 12