Example: [Collected on the Internet, 1999]
When I was growing up in New Jersey, I used to find praying mantises in our driveway and back yard every once in a while. It was illegal in NJ to kill a praying mantis, as I remember.
Origins: The belief that it is illegal to kill a praying mantis (a crime carrying a $50 fine as a punishment) has been floating around since the 1950s, and we have no idea where this bit of insectoid legal apocrypha came from. There is not (and never has been) any federal or state law proscribing the killing of praying mantises. They're certainly useful insects that are best left alone since they eat a lot of other bugs we consider pests, but they're hardly an endangered species. (If they were endangered, killing them would carry a fine far heftier than $50.) Maybe because they're considered beneficial insects and have such an unusual posture (they're prayin', fer gosh sake!) people literally thought it a crime to kill them.
Last updated: 29 June 2007
Morgan, Hal and Kerry Tucker. More Rumor! New York: Penguin Books, 1987. ISBN 0-14-009720-1 (pp. 126-127).