Identification of mantids is not an easy task, although it is relatively easy compared with most tropical insect groups. This is partly because it is a small group and partly because they are generally quite large insects which show little significant variation within a species. Some species occur in different colour forms, but overall colour is not usually of any importance for identification.
Finding literature for identification can be very time consuming and costly. The only comprehensive book for identification of mantids is now 80 years old and is in French (Giglio-Tos, 1927). Fairly recent keys, in English, to Families, Subfamilies and Tribes may be found in the first four MSG Newletters.
As with most insects, identification is much easier with dead specimens. Identification is almost impossible by examining a live mantis under a microscope, it is too difficult to manipulate the insect into the desired positions. When dead, the mantis will soon rot or stiffen up so it is important to ensure that it is preserved in such a position that all the essential parts can be examined. The parts which need to be available for examination vary depending on the group to which the mantis belongs. The most important features for identification are the head, thorax, forelegs, wings, and the male genitalia. The head and thorax are not usually a problem but the forelegs need to be opened out so that all the surfaces of each part of the legs are available for examination; the spines on these legs are particularly important. In most groups the wings do not matter, but in a few it is important to be able to examine both the forewing and hindwing, so it is best to spread the wings on one side of the body in all specimens. For information on how to preserve the male genitalia, see the page on preservation of mantids.
Type specimens are the specimens which define a species (or a subspecies).
There are several sorts of type specimens.
They are the original specimens that were used to describe the species (except for Neotypes).
The author of a species is the person who first used a scientific name for the species.
Holotype: This is the definitive specimen for the species. It is either the only specimen that was used to describe the species or, if more than one was used, the author selected this one to be the holotype.
Paratype: If the author selected a holotype then the other specimens used to describe the species are termed paratypes.
Syntype: Before the rules were defined, authors often did not specify a holotype from the series of specimens they were using to describe the species: these are known as syntypes.
Lectotype: This is one of the syntypes that someone has later chosen to act in place of the holotype because the original author did not choose one.
Paralectotype: These are the other syntypes that are left when a lectotype has been chosen.
Neotype: This is a specimen which is designated by a later author as a replacement if the original specimens are destroyed or completely lost.