Urban Legends

Praying Mantises

The Legend

Submitted in January 2005

I used to live in New York, and when I was a kid my parents told me that I couldn't kill praying mantises because it was illegal. They would get all upset if I would start swatting at one in my hair or something, because there is like a $500 fine if you are caught. They told me about a neighborhood kid who accidentally killed one and put it in a wood chipper to destroy the evidence. But this police officer (who happened to be really pregnant, which was weird) caught him doing it and arrested him. True story.

Behind the Legend

Despite what many people believe, it is not illegal for the average person to kill praying mantises. You can kill all of them you like. Heck, you can even buy crates filled with them just for the purpose of killing them and the law won't make a peep (although your relatives might raise an eyebrow or two).

But if you're a government employee, that's different.

By federal law, government employees are not allowed to harm praying mantises. This law, enacted to enforce the constitutional provision of separation of church and state, also applies to zorapterans ("angel insects"), Judas beetles, and Christ-on-a stick insects. An unusual byproduct of this law is that when praying mantises are purchased by gardeners in government employ for the purposes of ridding public gardens of pests, the female insects are subject to a $500 fine if they devour their mates after sex. To date, few of these fines have been collected, however.

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