Monday, September 30, 2013

PRAYING MANTISES

A few weeks ago, Mom opened the front door one morning so she could go out and get the newspaper.    And Mom was shocked to find a praying mantis on the glass storm door.  Right away Mom went and got her camera.  I think it was a Sunday morning when this happened because of course Sunday would be the best day for a mantis to pray!


Anyway, I'm not usually too interested in bugs, except for cicadas, and also June bugs, both of which I like to eat.  Cicadas are my very, very favorites, as I have told you before.  But I have never eaten a praying mantis, so I don't know how their flavor compares with that of cicadas. When Mom found the praying mantis, I was in the middle of a nice nap, so I didn't pay too much attention to it.  But Jason saw that Mom was taking pictures of something, and he went over to the door to check out what it was.  Then Jason decided he would like to catch the praying mantis and play with it and maybe eat it, but he couldn't do that because the glass was in the way.


So Mom took some pictures, and then she went and got the paper, and the praying mantis was still on the door.  But Mom shut the inside door so we couldn't see the mantis anymore.  And later it was gone, but we don't know where it went because it did not file a flight plan with us.

"My, what big, compound eyes I have!"

Okay, well, now I have done some in-depth research on praying mantises, and I am prepared to tell you a little bit about them.  Mantises belong to the insect order called Mantidae.  There are over 2,400 species worldwide in this order.  They live in temperate and tropical habitats.  Only 18 species are native to North America.  But the species we see most often are two that were actually introduced, the Chinese mantis and the European mantis.


These foreign species were brought here because people thought they would help get rid of bad bugs in their gardens.  But it turns our that mantises can't tell a good bug from a bad bug.  So they would just as soon eat a nice honey bee that is pollinating your flowers as they would a nasty caterpillar that is making holes in your cabbages.

Mantises are very good at camouflage.
Photo:  Tim Laman

Praying mantises have folded front legs that make it look like they are praying, so that's how they got their common name.  The scientific name Mantidae came from the Ancient Greek words mantis, which means "prophet" or "seer" and eidos, which means "form" or "type."

Praying mantis eating a cricket.
Photo:  Luc Viatour/www.Lucnix.be

Mantises are predatory, and they have spiked forelegs that are especially made for grabbing prey and holding onto it.  A baby mantis eats small things like flies or its own siblings.  As the mantis grows, it catches bigger and bigger insects.  Large mantises have been known to prey on small scorpions, lizards, frogs, birds, snakes, fish, and even rodents.

Mantis on fern fronds......or else riding a bicycle.
Photo:  Eco Suparman/CATERS NEWS
Malaysian Orchid Mantis
Photo:  Luc Viatour/www.Lucnix.be

Most mantises are ambush predators.  They camouflage themselves and spend long periods of time holding very still until something yummy comes along.  They can turn their heads 180º to get a good look at everything around them.  Also, they have two big compound eyes, with three simple eyes in between them.  So when some unlucky bug comes too close, the mantis reaches out, quick as a wink, and grabs it with its spiky legs.  If the prey doesn't resist, the mantis will usually eat it alive.  If it resists, the mantis eats the head first.  The praying mantis has jaws that can just slice and chew the prey, starting from one end or in the middle, whatever is most convenient.

Mantis threat display.
Photo:  CaPro

If a mantis feels threatened, it can make a big scary threat display by standing up tall and spreading its wings out really wide.  If that doesn't scare a predator away, the mantis can strike out with its front legs and try to pinch, bite, or slash at its captor.  The things that like to eat mantises include Scops owls, shrikes, bats, bullfrogs, chameleons, and milk snakes.

Mantises mating.  The brown one is the male.
Photo:  Zwentibold

A lot of people have heard that a praying mantis female will eat the head off a male while they are mating.  And sometimes this really happens.  It happens a lot in laboratories, where mantises feel kind of stressed.  Scientists think that in nature it only happens about 30% of the time, and maybe not even that often.

Egg case
Photo:  Hans Hillewaert

Anyway, I wouldn't mind sampling a praying mantis sometime to find out what it tastes like.  Jason is also interested in doing this, so we asked Mom if she could catch one for us next time she sees one.  But Mom says she thinks mantises are very creepy looking, with those pointy faces and great big eyes, and she certainly does not want to handle one.  Also, she said that if we tried to eat a praying mantis, it would probably bite us or slash us with its spiky legs.  Which is a good point, so I think I will just stick with cicadas!

Praying Mantis in Australia
Photo:  Fir0002



2 comments:

  1. Hey, I can’t seem to find an email address. Can you email me back to ask you a question?
    –Shaye
    shayewalsh1@gmail.com

    ReplyDelete
  2. I would prefer not to give out my email address right now, but I'd be glad to answer your question if you want to post it as a comment on this blog.

    ReplyDelete