How to Tell a Carolina Mantis Eggcase from a Chinese Mantis Eggcase (What’s an Ootheca?)

The Bunched Arrowhead Heritage Preserve is one of my favorite late-day stops when I need to get a nature fix. It’s about 20 minutes from my house and offers a range of habitats to explore — including forest, rare wetland seepage areas, and maintained meadows.

Meadow habitats have become so scarce in the Carolinas that DNR uses mowing and controlled burns to renew it every few years. By the second year, fast-growing pioneer tree species such as sweetgum have peeked their heads over the grasses. When I went a couple of weeks ago I saw dozens of praying mantis oothecas pasted to the whip-like sweetgum trunks.

Photo Caption: The Bunched Arrowhead Heritage Preserve in Travelers Rest, SC is absolutely stunning year-round.

What’s an ootheca? It’s a communal insect or mollusk egg case. In this instance I could recognize which species of mantis it was even from a distance.

Photo Caption: Chinese mantids don't mind laying overlapping egg cases but the young are cannibalistic and may eat each other when they eclose.

Chinese mantids (Tenodera sinensis) have been naturalized in the USA since at least 1895. They have color morphs that range from brown (with a green wing stripe) to solid, bright green. Their oothecas are a little smaller than ping pong balls and fairly round. If the front of the ootheca looks like tiny Venetian blinds (photo from The Enchanted Tree) you will know that the approximately 200 eggs have already hatched and moved on.

These are the most common mantis egg cases that I see and the species has a wide range. They are also the mantids you can buy from natural pest control companies.

I can usually find mantis egg cases decorating our yearly Christmas tree (look all inside the branches — they are sneaky). If left indoors for the holidays the baby mantids will assume the warmth of your house means spring — and hatch. They’ll starve in the winter so I quickly move the oothecas into a shady spot in the garden. Oothecas that are in full sun can get unseasonably warm and hatch too early.

Photo Caption: Carolina Mantis Egg Case on eastern red cedar (Taken by Chris Wirth)

The Carolina mantis (Stagmomantis carolina) is my state insect. I love the idea of state insects, and I wonder how many people know theirs?

Gray and brown camouflaged Carolina mantids are smaller and less showy than Chinese mantids. They are around in the warm months but easier to spot when they reach adulthood (around August). Their ootheca is elongated and more slender, though you can still tell when they have hatched from the Venetian blinds look.

Sometimes caterpillar egg masses get mistaken for Carolina mantis cases. These Eastern tent caterpillar eggs are darker and harder than mantis oothecas.

Here’s what the adults look like:

Carolina mantis

Brown form of the Chinese mantis

Green form of the Chinese mantis

And hey, while I’m at it, it is an urban legend that female mantids eat their males during copulation. That happens in laboratory settings when the female is starving… and then who can blame her? 😉

Eliza Lord

I'm a Greenville, SC native (the Appalachian foothills) who wears the hats of Greenville Master Gardener & Upstate Master Naturalist. I love to write about food and sustainability.

24 thoughts on “How to Tell a Carolina Mantis Eggcase from a Chinese Mantis Eggcase (What’s an Ootheca?)”

  1. Nathaniel
    Twitter: nhlord
    - March 12, 2010 9:33 am

    I love mantids, they are such funky awesome insects. I am also a little jealous that SC gets such a cool state insect. Vermont has the honey bee and the Monarch Butterfly (State butterfly). Don’t get me wrong, honey bees and monarchs are pretty sweet, but they are also pretty common. it would be fun to have something a bit more unique. I’ll have to think about what specifically for a little while.
    .-= Nathaniel´s last blog ..Preparing a Garden =-.

    Reply
    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - March 12, 2010 12:13 pm

      From now on when people ask you why you moved to South Carolina you can tell them it was so you’d have a more unique state insect.
      .-= Sustainahillbilly´s last blog ..How to Tell a Carolina Mantis Eggcase from a Chinese Mantis Eggcase (What’s an Ootheca?) =-.

      Reply
      1. Erin - January 13, 2012 2:04 pm

        Can you inform me of what this “Plant puzzler” is as referred to in a post from Liza:
        Liza
        March 12th, 2010 at 11:22 am · Reply
        Great post Eliza, I love those little fellas, too! I would never have thought to look in my Christmas tree for them! Hey, you didn’t win last week’s plant puzzler, but you scored lots of extra credit points anyway! I hope you enjoy!
        .-= Liza´s last blog ..[Friday – Ask the Experts] The Best, Smartest, Funniest and Only Plant Blog Panel of Experts on the Web =-.

        Much obliged; loved this article.

        Reply
  2. Liza - March 12, 2010 11:22 am

    Great post Eliza, I love those little fellas, too! I would never have thought to look in my Christmas tree for them! Hey, you didn’t win last week’s plant puzzler, but you scored lots of extra credit points anyway! I hope you enjoy!
    .-= Liza´s last blog ..[Friday – Ask the Experts] The Best, Smartest, Funniest and Only Plant Blog Panel of Experts on the Web =-.

    Reply
    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - March 12, 2010 12:36 pm

      I had them hatch inside the house once, so now I look for them every year. Your blog post was fun, as always!
      .-= Sustainahillbilly´s last blog ..How to Tell a Carolina Mantis Eggcase from a Chinese Mantis Eggcase (What’s an Ootheca?) =-.

      Reply
  3. wiseace - March 12, 2010 3:44 pm

    I admit – I had to go and check out my state bug. But I found reason to be proud. Our NY Ladybug has 2 more spots than NH’s 7-spotted ladybug.

    I have yet to find a mantis eggcase. I think I’m a bit too far north for them to really get established. They’re here but I rarely see them.
    .-= wiseace´s last blog ..Fire Moss & Ice =-.

    Reply
    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - March 12, 2010 4:16 pm

      Haha go 9 spotted ladybugs! :)
      .-= Sustainahillbilly´s last blog ..How to Tell a Carolina Mantis Eggcase from a Chinese Mantis Eggcase (What’s an Ootheca?) =-.

      Reply
  4. Randy - March 12, 2010 7:23 pm

    I knew all of this already, still a great posting. We have several Chinese mantis casing on the clematis over the edge of the deck railing hopefully we’ll see babies pretty soon.
    .-= Randy´s last blog ..Hocus Pocus Crocus =-.

    Reply
    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - March 14, 2010 12:41 pm

      It would be fun to have mantids hatching right on the deck! That should make your chances of catching them in the act a little better. I always miss mine.
      .-= Sustainahillbilly´s last blog ..How to Teach Beginner Organic Gardening in 15 Minutes =-.

      Reply
  5. Meredith - March 13, 2010 12:59 am

    Wow, I learned a lot from this post. I didn’t see any mantises this last summer, which saddened me. I’ll keep a lookout for these native cases on my walks in the woods (or is it only in meadows?) So glad to know that is an urban legend… I should have known!
    .-= Meredith´s last blog ..moving on =-.

    Reply
    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - March 14, 2010 12:46 pm

      I think you can see them in the woods too, but the adults are attracted to sunny areas because they can move better when they are warm. Also, I think they are just easier to see in sunny places.
      .-= Sustainahillbilly´s last blog ..How to Teach Beginner Organic Gardening in 15 Minutes =-.

      Reply
  6. Elephant's Eye - March 13, 2010 3:56 pm

    We do sometimes find a batch of teensy tiny baby mantises in the house. Almost too small for rescuing to go out in the garden. And where there was one, there are probably more around. Diana

    Reply
    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - March 14, 2010 12:47 pm

      Yeah, I’m impressed you can find them when they are loners… so tiny!!!
      .-= Sustainahillbilly´s last blog ..How to Teach Beginner Organic Gardening in 15 Minutes =-.

      Reply
  7. Kelly@LifeOutOfDoors - March 13, 2010 5:31 pm

    What a great excuse to learn something new on a rainy Saturday afternoon. The firefly is the state bug of Pennsylvania. Who knew? So – are the chinese versions of the mantis just as beneficial as the native version? I love finding these guys in my garden – I didn’t know there were two kinds.

    I spent my summers in the appalachan mountains as a kid – up in the Shenandoah Valley of VA. What a wonderful place to live. I wrote a post about one particular mountain afternoon – check it out if you get a sec – http://lifeoutofdoors.com/2010/03/03/summer-reverie/
    Thanks for picking my post on blotanical! Kelly

    Reply
    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - March 14, 2010 12:52 pm

      I think that mantids are so similar in eating habits that the 6 or so species in the US all provide approximately the same benefits to gardens. I’m not sure how beneficial mantids are, though. They eat as many beneficial insects as pests, probably. Ladybugs, lacewings, and wasps are much more helpful in a garden. But mantids are cool, and that trumps everything else for me! :)
      .-= Sustainahillbilly´s last blog ..How to Teach Beginner Organic Gardening in 15 Minutes =-.

      Reply
  8. Sandra - March 13, 2010 8:19 pm

    Someone told me if a praying mantis could open its mouth wide enough, it would bite and it has a poisonous bite. Is any of this true or was I being had…again? -wry grin-
    We always see a lot of praying mantis cases and then the critters. I love watching them as they grow from such little things to huge monster looking things.

    Reply
    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - March 14, 2010 1:21 pm

      I think that is probably an urban legend, too. I don’t think they are venomous, but watch out for the spines on their “praying” legs! They are like spears.
      .-= Sustainahillbilly´s last blog ..How to Teach Beginner Organic Gardening in 15 Minutes =-.

      Reply
  9. TimTv - April 11, 2010 9:14 pm

    Hiya! I’m trying to search online to find out if there are any stores in the Greenville, SC area that sell Mantis egg cases. Any ideas?

    ~ Tim

    Reply
    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - April 12, 2010 10:05 am

      Hi! I don’t know any local sources though I have seen them sold in garden centers along with live ladybugs from time to time. I’d try calling the garden centers in the phone book. Otherwise, I think you’ll need to get them mail order. You could also try finding some near your house. They’re common (or at least easier to see) in fields and along roadsides where no one has been mowing. Mantids do spend most of their time in full sun since it warms them up and makes them move faster, so they usually lay eggs there as well.

      It’s getting warm out so check if the oothecas already have the venetian blind look (if they do, they’ve hatched). The ones in the shade hatch less quickly than those in full sun.
      .-= Sustainahillbilly´s last blog ..How to Choose Disease Resistant Rose Varieties to Grow Organically (With Sources List) =-.

      Reply
  10. cstar - September 29, 2010 8:11 am

    I just discovered a mantis momma inside my mailbox lid. She decided to make a nice home for her nest right there. I don’t want to disturb her, but..not the best place for her and her babies. Nor do I want the mailman to hurt her. Does anyone know if a mantis ootheca can be relocated safely and how to do that?? I believe it’s a Carolina.
    Thanks!
    Chris

    Reply
  11. mantisguy - May 28, 2011 9:20 pm

    There are some mistakes on this website regarding Chinese mantises.

    1. There are two species of Chinese mantises – Tenodera sinensis and T. angustipennis. Both of these species are found in Virginia and most likely the Carolinas.

    2. Both species of Tenodera (Chinese mantises) DO sexually cannibalize males. The urban myth is the amount of occurrence. My graduate research is studying both species of Tenodera (TONS of field work) and I have seen this numerous times. However, copulation can be successful without cannibalization, unlike some species of mantises.

    3. I cannot tell from the one picture of “Carolina mantis” egg case (ootheca) you provide, but Tenodera angustipennis oothecae look very similar. I would say that it would take a lot of practice to differentiate between the two.

    Thanks,
    Cory

    Reply
  12. River Mud
    Twitter: chesmud
    - August 15, 2012 12:20 am

    While T. angustipennis have certainly colonized North Carolina, I think it’s a fair statement to say that those oothecae are more likely to be Carolinas (10,000,000 years in situ) than Chinese (20 years in situ).

    Reply
    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - January 16, 2013 10:21 am

      It’s pretty easy to tell the two species’ oothecae apart. They have very different shapes.

      Also, it’s well established that a vigorous introduced species can drastically reduce the numbers of a native species. It doesn’t always happen, but there are many cases of introduced species outpopulating or even causing the extinction of native ones.

      Reply
  13. Pingback: News: Eliza on TV, Upcoming Events, and Our Favorite “How To” Articles | Appalachian Feet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge