Ladybugs and praying mantises are both beneficial insects that feast on pest species in your garden. But will a praying mantis make a meal out of a ladybug if given the chance? The short answer is yes, praying mantises are opportunistic predators that will eat ladybugs.

However, they generally prefer soft-bodied insects like aphids. In this nearly 3000 word guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about the predatory relationship between praying mantises and ladybugs.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Praying mantises are predators and they will eat ladybugs if given the opportunity, although they tend to prefer eating soft-bodied insects. But eating ladybugs is rare and praying mantises are more likely to target pests.

Read on for details on the predatory habits of praying mantises, ladybug defenses against predators, whether mantises hunt ladybugs, if they eat adult ladybugs or larvae, the role camouflage plays, and how to protect ladybugs in your garden.

Do Praying Mantises Actively Hunt Ladybugs?

Praying mantises are opportunistic predators that will eat a wide variety of insects. However, they generally prefer softer-bodied prey that is easier to catch and consume. Ladybugs have a hard protective shell and chemical defenses that make them less than ideal prey for mantises.

Praying Mantis Prefer Softer Prey

The preferred diet of praying mantises consists mainly of insects with softer exoskeletons such as flies, moths, crickets, caterpillars, and bees. Their raptorial forelegs are well-adapted for capturing and handling these types of prey.The hard wing covers and sturdy legs of ladybugs make them more difficult for a mantis to successfully grasp and consume. Therefore, mantises do not actively hunt or prefer to eat ladybugs when other insect prey is available.

Ladybug Defenses Against Predators

Ladybugs have several natural defenses that protect them against predators like praying mantises:

  • Their elytra (hardened forewing shells) make it difficult for mantises to pierce through to soft tissue.
  • Ladybugs can secrete an unpleasant tasting yellow fluid from their leg joints that deters predators.
  • Their bright coloration warns potential predators that they may be poisonous or bad-tasting.
  • When threatened, ladybugs will play dead or use their elytra to clap loudly to startle attackers.

These defenses make ladybugs an unappealing prey item that is not worth the effort for a mantis to pursue when other options are present.

Mantises Opportunistically Eat Ladybugs

Though not a preferred food source, praying mantises will opportunistically eat ladybugs if the conditions are right. This usually occurs if:

  • Other prey is scarce.
  • A ladybug has recently molted and is soft-bodied.
  • The ladybug is already injured or impaired in some way.
  • The mantis is exceptionally hungry.

There are also rare cases of very large mantis species in tropical regions preying on ladybugs. But in general, mantises do not hunt healthy, adult ladybugs as standard prey. They only eat them occasionally when the situation allows for an easy meal.

What Life Stages of Ladybugs Do Mantises Eat?

Eating Ladybug Larvae

Praying mantises will readily consume ladybug larvae if given the opportunity. The larvae are soft-bodied, defenseless, and packed with nutrition, making them an ideal snack for mantises. In fact, ladybug larvae are one of the most commonly eaten insects by praying mantises.

Mantises are adept hunters and have no trouble capturing the small, slow-moving larvae. Their powerful raptorial front legs swiftly snatch the larvae off leaves and branches. The larvae’s only defense is to regurgitate a foul-tasting liquid, but this is rarely enough to deter a hungry mantis.

Ladybug larvae live exposed on plants, often in large groups, which allows mantises easy access. A single mantis can gorge itself on larvae if it finds a colony. This is especially common in gardens and greenhouses where both insects take up residence.

Eating Adult Ladybugs

While praying mantises will eat adult ladybugs, they tend to prefer larvae and other, softer insects. Adult ladybugs have a hard protective shell and reflex bleeding as a defense, making them less appealing prey.

However, a hungry mantis will still attack an adult ladybug, especially larger mantis species. The mantis uses its raptorial legs to grab and pierce the ladybug’s shell. It then proceeds to eat the body contents.

During mating, a ladybug is especially vulnerable to predation. When locked together in copulation, the ladybugs are unable to flee or defend themselves, allowing a mantis an easy double meal.

Impacts of Losing Larvae and Adults

Praying mantis predation of ladybug larvae can significantly impact ladybug populations. Each larva eaten is one less adult ladybug. Larvae also tend to congregate together, allowing a mantis to decimate a generation.

Adult ladybugs are important for keeping plant-eating pest populations under control. When mantises reduce ladybug numbers, more pests may infest gardens and farms. Ladybugs are also beneficial insects, so lowering populations can impact the larger ecosystem.

However, mantises typically do not prey on ladybugs in high enough numbers to cause major declines. More often, the two insects live in balance. Mantises may just need supplemental feeding if larvae numbers drop too low.

How Camouflage Plays a Role

Mantises Use Camouflage to Hunt

Praying mantises rely heavily on camouflage as ambush predators. Their natural coloration allows them to blend into foliage, avoiding detection by both prey and predators. Mantises can be green, brown, or gray depending on the environment.

Some species have patterns that mimic leaves, sticks, or flowers. This cryptic appearance enables mantises to patiently stalk insects like flies, grasshoppers, and butterflies that stray too close to their perch.

When prey is within striking distance, the mantis uses its raptorial front legs to swiftly grab and impale the unsuspecting victim. Camouflage is such an effective hunting strategy that around 70% of praying mantis species are cryptically colored.

Research shows mantises match the level of concealment in their habitat, with those in homogenous environments being more camouflaged than those in heterogeneous habitats with diverse vegetation.

Mantises alter their behavior to enhance camouflage while hunting. They usually perch on branches, leaves, or stems at the edge of vegetation facing open areas where prey is abundant. Remaining absolutely still minimizes detection, sometimes for hours on end.

Mantises orient themselves to match elements in the background and conceal key body parts like their heads. Their cryptic posture resembles vegetation gently swaying in the breeze. Mantises occasionally exhibit swaying behavior and slow stalking motions to mimic plants and prevent detection.

Their camouflage is so effective that prey insects land directly on a mantis before being snatched.

Ladybug Coloration as Camouflage

Ladybugs also rely on camouflage defenses, especially cryptic coloration and patterned body markings. Most ladybugs have reddish or orange elytra (wing covers) with black spots. This conspicuous coloration pattern is known as aposematic coloration, meaning it warns potential predators that ladybugs are toxic and distasteful.

However, recent research shows ladybug markings also serve a cryptic camouflage function. When viewed from a distance, the repeated patterns of black spots on red elytra allows ladybugs to blend into vegetation by breaking up their body outline.

Camouflage varies between ladybug species based on their typical habitat. The two-spotted ladybug is a common garden species with a red and black pattern that hides them against flowers and lichen covered trees.

Tree-dwelling ladybugs like the twice-stabbed ladybug have yellow or pale elytra with bold black spots to match bark and lichens. Other ladybugs occupy grassy fields and have soft orange elytra with tiny spots. Their reduced pattern blends with scattered debris and soil.

Overall, different ladybug species tailor their camouflage to remain unseen in their daytime perches or nighttime hibernation sites.

In addition to coloration, ladybugs’ hemispherical shape helps camouflage them. Their domed elytra and compact shape resembles rocks, seeds, buds, and capsules in the natural environment. Ladybugs will play dead and retract their legs to enhance this resemblence when threatened.

Ladybugs are most visible when flying between plants, however, making them susceptible to mantis ambushes. Still, their cryptic appearance likely prevents other predators like birds and spiders from targeting them.

Protecting Ladybugs from Mantises in Your Garden

Provide Hiding Places

Ladybugs need places to hide and escape from predatory insects like praying mantises. You can help ladybugs by ensuring your garden has sufficient hiding spots and shelters. Leaving areas of dense vegetation and clusters of flowers gives ladybugs nooks to conceal themselves when mantises are on the prowl.

Also, take care not to over-prune plants or remove dead wood and leaves, as these often contain excellent refuges.

Some prime hiding place ideas are:

  • Plant flowers among vegetables – The flowers act as ladybug magnets and shelters.
  • Allow grass to grow longer – Longer grass allows ladybugs to hide at the base of the blades.
  • Retain brush piles and woodpiles – These forgotten spots are ladybug havens.

By boosting hiding areas, you give helpful ladybugs a better chance to avoid becoming mantis meals.

Avoid Over-Pruning Vegetation

It’s essential not to be overzealous when trimming plants and tidying your garden beds. While you may wish to keep everything orderly, recognize the critical role of “messier” and overgrown sections when sheltering beneficial insects like ladybugs.

Pruning vegetation too severely eliminates hiding spots that ladybugs rely on to stay safe from predators. So resist the temptation to cut back more than necessary. Leave some wild, scruffy zones with dense foliage for ladybugs to duck into when troubled by hunting mantises and other threats.

Reduce Other Insect Numbers

An effective approach is decreasing the quantity of alternative prey that attracts mantises to your garden initially. The fewer aphids, caterpillars, flies and other little insects occupying your plants, the less likely mantises will concentrate there hunting for food.

You can accomplish this through:

  • Removing heavily infested vegetation
  • Applying organic pest control methods
  • Encouraging predatory insects like ladybugs that feed on plant pests

With less insects drawing in mantises, the probability of them encountering and eating ladybugs declines as well. An added plus – your plants become healthier with fewer pesky bugs attacking them!


To wrap things up, praying mantises are opportunistic predators that will eat ladybugs, especially the more vulnerable larvae stage, but they prefer eating softer bodied insects.

While mantises use camouflage to sneak up on prey, ladybugs have some defenses with their hard shell and coloration that can help them avoid getting eaten.

By providing ladybugs with hiding spots, avoiding over-pruning, and reducing the numbers of other insects in your garden, you can help limit praying mantis attacks on helpful ladybugs.

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