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Can praying mantis survive winter?

Can praying mantis survive winter?

Praying mantises are fascinating insects that capture people’s imaginations with their alien appearance and unique behaviors. One question that often comes up about these insects is whether they can survive frigid winters in northern climates. The short answer is yes, praying mantises have adaptations that allow them to survive cold weather. However, their ability to make it through the winter depends on the mantis species and exact winter conditions.

Do all praying mantis species survive winter?

Not all praying mantis species can survive winter. Generally, larger praying mantis species that originate from temperate climates have adaptations to handle colder temperatures. On the other hand, smaller tropical and subtropical species lack the special adaptations needed to make it through freezing conditions.

Here are some cold-hardy praying mantis species that can survive winter:

– Chinese mantis – This large green/brown mantis is one of the most common species people find in their gardens. They are hardy and can survive cold winters as adults or eggs.

– European mantis – Smaller and greener than the Chinese mantis, these mantises are another cold-tolerant species. They are common in Europe but have also been introduced to parts of North America.

– Carolina mantis – A native green-and-pink mantis species found in the eastern United States. They can survive winters in their natural range.

Meanwhile, tropical species like the Ghost mantis and Budwing mantis would perish in freezing temperatures. Their native habitat does not dip below 50°F on average, so they never adapted the special winter survival mechanisms.

How do praying mantises survive winter cold?

Praying mantises from temperate climates can survive frigid winters for two main reasons:

1. Cold-hardiness adaptations
2. Life stage

Certain physiological and behavioral adaptations allow temperate mantis species to handle cold including:

– Production of glycerol “antifreeze” that lowers their freezing point
– Slowing down metabolism to conserve energy
– Seeking sheltered overwintering spots

Additionally, mantises are most likely to survive winter while in a hardened life stage:

– Egg cases – Most cold-tolerant mantis eggs can survive below freezing temperatures as long as they remain dry. They contain glycerol and may have thick foam insulation.

– Adults – Adult mantises can survive winter in milder climates but often perish in harsher zones. They may lay eggs that overwinter instead.

– Nymphs/larvae – Mantises typically hatch in spring/summer. Their early nymph stages would not survive winter.

Ideal winter conditions for praying mantis survival

While certain mantis species have adaptations to handle cold, winter survival still depends heavily on the specific conditions:

– **Temperature** – Most temperate mantises can survive temperatures dipping briefly into the 20s Fahrenheit. But sustained subfreezing temps below 20°F often prove lethal.

– **Precipitation** – Heavy snow or ice accumulation is dangerous. It can cause egg cases to become wet, moldy, and less insulated. Ice can also kill adults by entombing them.

– **Wind** – High winds remove insulating layers of snow and increase the chill factor. Strong gusts can knock adults and egg cases out of protected spots.

– **Sunlight** – Winter sun provides warmth critical for survival. Overcast skies and shorter days mean frigid, dark conditions.

– **Shelter** – Well-insulated shelters are essential, whether under tree bark, in rock crevices, within brush piles, or buried in soil.

Ideally, mantises experience a winter with temperatures fluctuating just above and below freezing, little precipitation, ample sunlight, minimal wind, and good shelter. Such conditions allow them to overwinter safely while expending as little energy as possible.

Behaviors and stages that help mantises survive winter

Praying mantises engage in key behaviors and strategically choose certain life stages to improve their odds for surviving harsh winters:

– **Breeding** – Most mating occurs in late summer/early fall so that females can produce cold-hardy eggs before winter arrives.

– **Habitat selection** – Seeking proper overwintering sites, like tree holes or beneath loose bark, keeps mantises insulated and protected.

– **Diapause** – This hibernation-like state allows mantis eggs and adults to become dormant and minimize energy use in winter.

– **Egg laying** – Females lay eggs in secure spots, often on branches, twigs, etc. Foam insulates the eggs.

– **Nymph avoidance** – Mantises time hatching so vulnerable early nymphs don’t emerge until warmer spring weather.

– **Glycerol production** – Both adults and eggs produce glycerol, an “antifreeze” substance, to survive freezing.

– **Metabolic slowdown** – Mantises keep their metabolism at a crawl over winter to avoid using up fat reserves.

These behavioral and developmental adaptations have equipped mantises to handle the harsh conditions of winter and pass their genes on to the next generation.

Impact of global warming on praying mantis winter survival

Climate change could have mixed effects on praying mantis abilities to survive winter:

**Potential benefits:**

– Warmer average temperatures may allow more tropical species to expand their range.

– Fewer days with extreme subzero lows could decrease mortality rates.

– Shorter, milder winters would require less energy expenditure.

**Potential downsides:**

– Warm spells followed by sudden cold snaps might catch mantises off guard before they enter diapause.

– Increased precipitation could lead to wet egg cases that freeze and fail to hatch.

– More frequent ice storms could coat shrubs and trees, removing insulating snow cover.

– Loss of habitat like forests, meadows, and brush piles may limit sheltered overwintering sites.

While a warmer climate may favor praying mantis expansion overall, the increasing unpredictability of weather patterns will likely pose new overwintering challenges. Mantises that fail to adapt quickly enough may see declines in certain areas.

Ensuring mantis survival in your own garden

If you want to boost the odds of mantises surviving winter in your own yard or garden, some tips include:

– Plant native shrubs and trees that provide insulation and crevices for shelter. Evergreens like juniper or cedar work well.

– Build a simple brush pile out of branches, twigs, and leaves for added insulated spots.

– Avoid pruning all vegetation back completely in fall – leave some stems and foliage for egg cases.

– Prevent heavy snow or ice buildup on branches near known egg cases. Carefully shake snow off if needed.

– On warm winter days around 40°F, open any enclosed cold frame greenhouses, sheds, or unheated garages where adults may be hiding. This gives them a chance to emerge, warm up, and drink.

Taking a few simple steps like these can create optimal microhabitat conditions that will boost your local mantis population’s chances of successfully overwintering and emerging again next spring. With a little help, you may be surprised at how well these fascinating insects can tolerate the cold!


In conclusion, many praying mantis species have remarkable physiological and behavioral adaptations that allow them to survive freezing winter temperatures. Mantises from temperate climates like the Chinese and European mantis can handle cold far better than tropical species. They produce antifreeze chemicals, seek shelter, go dormant, and lay cold-tolerant eggs timed to avoid vulnerable nymph stages in winter. While climate change could impact winter survival in varied ways, gardeners can take measures like providing insulation and shelter to help local mantises overcome winter challenges. With a little assistance, these incredible insects are well-equipped to make it through the cold months each year.