Praying Mantis Anatomy

What You Need:

  • Picture of a mantis
  • Copy machine or printer
  • Marker(s)
  • Stiff plastic, cardboard, or art foam 
  • Scissors
  • Brass paper fasteners
  • Tape or paper hole reinforcements
  • Googly eyes (optional)
  • Popsicle stick (optional)

What You Do:

  1. Together with your child, find a picture of a mantis (online or in a book or magazine) that clearly shows the head, body, and legs.
  2. Enlarge the picture or drawing before printing, or on a copy machine, so that the puppet is larger than a real mantis. This will make it easier to see and to handle.
  3. Cut out the printed mantis, then trace its head and body onto stiff plastic, cardboard, or art foam. Then trace each leg separately. You can use multiple tracings of a leg if the other leg is obscured or hard to cut out in the original picture.
  4. If the plastic, art foam, or cardboard is not already green or brown, your child can use markers to color in the traced mantis parts, using the original picture you found online as a guide. Add googly eyes for extra personality!
  5. Cut out the body and head piece and all six leg pieces.
  6. With tape or paper hole reinforcements, reinforce the legs and body where you'll be attaching them. You can use this opportunity to ask your child where the legs should go.
  7. Hinge the body at the joints with brass paper fasteners. Include all six legs, even though it’s a flat puppet. If you feel like that's too many legs or too many fasteners, try using one fastener to connect two legs onto the puppet, one for each side of the body.
  8. The puppet is ready for play as-is, or with a popsicle stick taped to the back to use as a handle!

Introduce your child to their new friend! Have them say, "Hi, my name is Mantis. What's your name?" Don't forget to make your insect's legs move! 

Learning From Your Mantis:

  • Ask your child to count the legs on the mantis puppet (there should be six) and to count their own legs. What's different about the mantis' front legs and back legs? What are the front legs used for?
  • Make the mantis puppet catch an "insect" (your own hand, then your child's hand if they are willing). As long as your child knows that they are safe, being "chased" by the mantis puppet can be a lot of fun.
  • What other parts of the insect can your child name? Introduce vocabulary such as thorax (where the legs are attached), abdomen (located behind the thorax), antenna, and palps (mouth parts). You can even sing this catchy song to the tune of "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes":

Head, thorax, ab-do-men, abdomen. [Point to your chest, then your bottom.]
Head, thorax ab-do-men, abdomen.
Eyes, antenna, and mouth, and palps. [Point to your mouth.]
Head, thorax, ab-do-men, abdomen.

Of course, you're not limited to these activities, or even to a praying mantis only. Use this model to create and learn about additional insects as well!

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