Is Killing a Praying Mantis Illegal?

It's not against the law, but it might be considered immoral

Praying Mantis On Field Against Sky

Jeff Blank / EyeEm / Getty Images 

Since the 1950s, a rumor has circulated that killing a praying mantis carries a fine. Killing a creature that looks as though it is on its knees praying might sound at the very list immoral, but, although cruel, it isn't against the law. Mantises are not protected by law, nor has there ever been such a law or statute at the federal, state, or city level in the United States. There are no penalties other than in folkloric traditions from many millennia past.

Praying Mantis

The insect, scientifically known as a mantis or mantid, seems to charm even the most bug-hating of people. The "praying" modifier was added by the public over time. It has large, raptorial front legs folded as if in prayer and a triangular head with almost inquisitive, bulging eyes that swivel to watch passers-by. The praying mantis appears to have an almost human quality..

Although they are erroneously considered to be stick insects or closely related to grasshoppers, their closest relatives are termites and cockroaches.

Mantises were thought to have supernatural powers by early civilizations, including ancient Greece, ancient Egypt, and Assyria. Females of the species are considered to be femme fatales, sometimes practicing sexual cannibalism by eating their mates after copulation, though other times the females are on the menu.

Potential Origins of the Rumor

Although it is difficult to determine the origin of the rumor about fines and mantis murder, one could take a few guesses. Gardeners have long considered the praying mantis to be a beneficial insect because they consume many other insects that destroy crops, thereby lessening the need for pesticides. So those who work the land would definitely be in favor of mantis protection and punishment of offenders and could believe it would figuratively be a crime to kill them. One thing about mantises, though: They do not discriminate. They eat all insects, those that are harmful to crops as well as those that are beneficial.

Another potential reason for the rumored penalty for killing mantises is that over the millennia there has been a great affinity for the insect. Killing mantises in the ancient world might have been verboten. The mantis was considered a god in southern Africa for its praying posture. The word for the mantis in Afrikaans is Hottentotsgot, which means "god of the Khoi." The ancient Greeks felt the mantis could show lost travelers the way home. According to ancient Egyptians, the "bird-fly" is a minor god that leads the souls of the dead to the underworld. In ancient Assyria, the mantis was considered a sorcerer and soothsayer.

Two Shaolin martial arts separately developed in northern and southern China have movements and fighting strategies based on those of the mantis. The Northern Praying Mantis style is the oldest, dating back to the Song or Ming dynasties, circa 900 to 1300.

Little-Known Mantis Facts

It is a little-known praying mantis fact that they are among the bugs most widely kept as pets. Because the lifespan of a mantis is only about a year, people who keep mantises often breed them.

Two mantises are listed as official state insects: the European mantis in Connecticut and the Carolina mantis in South Carolina.