State insect. The Carolina mantis (Stagmomantis carolina) became the state insect by a law approved by Governor Carroll Campbell on June 1, 1988. The legislators recognized the mantis as “a beneficial insect” found throughout the state and declared it to be “a perfect specimen of living science” for schoolchildren.
The Carolina species is the mantis most commonly found in the United States, ranging from New Jersey, southern New York, and Indiana south to Florida and west to Texas. It is brown or green, and adults measure from two to two and one-quarter inches in length. Like all mantises, the state insect is called a “praying mantis,” from the way it holds up its enormous front legs, as if in an attitude of prayer. In fact, the forelegs jerk out to seize prey that the mantis eats. The name “mantis” means “diviner” and was given to the insect by ancient Greeks, who believed that it possessed supernatural powers. The earliest known fossil mantises date from 25 million to 36 million years ago.
The Carolina mantid is a predator that eats virtually any insects it can catch, so it serves as a natural biological control agent. Its prey can include other mantises, and the females are famous for connubial cannibalism, often devouring their male partners after mating. They are harmless to humans. During legislative debate on the bill, Representative Derwood L. Aydlette, Jr., of Charleston humorously proposed designating instead the palmetto bug (cockroach), as a protest against legislative time and expense “involved in having all these little state symbols.”
Gaulden, Sid. “Cockroach Proposal Fails in S.C. House.” Charleston Post and Courier, April 28, 1988, p. B1.
Prete, Frederick R., et al. The Praying Mantids. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999.