Tuesday, August 28, 2012

BUG OUT! Praying Mantis

Living near woodlands, we meet lots of lil' buggers out here. My skin has definitely thickened as I've taken a more scientific approach to sharing space with larger insects and arachnids. 

Every once in awhile, I'll stumble upon a praying mantis, the most captivating insect I've observed. Because they are noticeably watching ME watching them, I'm entranced. We will stare at one another intently for quite some time. I'll move from one side of her body to the other, observing her turn her head to follow my gaze. They can turn their heads up to 180 degrees! So impressive.

Here's a beauty we followed for a bit alongside our friends' pond. 
This mantis is a beautiful bright green to blend with the grass.
So you know me, ever the nerd at heart, I did a bit of homework to learn more about these fascinating insects. Most people know that the praying mantis is named for its common front leg position, which often resembles praying hands.  Because I'm always interested in the meaning in a name, I learned that "mantis" is actually from the greek word "prophet". Praying prophet? Um...cool!
Check out the gams on this girl! Whoo whee!
So we've all heard the stories of the, uh...unique mating rituals of the praying mantis. Yikes. The things they do for love. These beauties are clearly designed for fierceness. According to National Geographic's data on this creature, mantis legs are deadly weapons. They are accessorized with spikes, which they use to impale their prey. Daaaaaang! Now that's some medieval killin' right there!
Climbing my deck chair to get a better view of the lunch menu.
And the brutal stories go on and on. It seems the praying mantis also channels a bit of Hannibal Lecter when the mood is right. It's true that females will devour their suitors during or after mating, but the praying mantis has been known to turn cannibal, well...just for the taste of it. Man. You'd think they were just squabbling over a grasshopper, but really, Molly Mantis just wanted a bite of Mikey Mantis' abdomen. Gads.
Legs ready to grab something yummy.
But despite the sordid tales, this insect is amazing. It can change colors (from bright green to brown) to blend in with its surrounding environment. In these photos, the mantis on my deck changed to a brown color to blend into the chair and surrounding wood. Clever girl!
And while you're looking at them, rest assured that they are indeed looking back at you. The praying mantis' 2 compound eyes and three simple eyes between are keen in the daylight, so they do most of their hunting when the lighting is good. In ideal conditions, they can detect movement from up to 60 feet away and they can see in color.

Look at that FORM!
They are patient and efficient hunters. After carefully stalking their prey, they wait, completely motionless, for the precise moment of attack. And what an attack it will be...
What are YOU lookin' at?
Not messing around, the praying mantis will stab its victim with its lightning fast front legs and will promptly behead the captive to quell any struggling. Now, with some some peace and quiet, the mantis can enjoy a delicious treat.
Ugh. Paparazzi! I'll have better luck catching my lunch in a more private setting.
Despite common rumors, the praying mantis is not an endangered insect, but PLEASE do NOT harm them when you meet. I have learned that these insects have no known negative impact on the ecosystem whatsoever. In fact, many people keep these gorgeous creatures as pets! They can live up to one year and seem relatively easy to care for and observe. If you do choose to take on a praying mantis, please use common sense, do your homework and handle with care. 

These exquisite creatures have certainly intrigued me this season, and my children and I have thoroughly enjoyed learning more about their lifestyle and behavior. I bow down to the praying prophets and have utmost respect for their patience and efficiency. And when the boys misbehave, the ladies in the mantis world send a pretty clear reminder of what a girl can do if she's irritable. Good to remember sometimes, huh? No wonder these dudes are prayin'!

P.S. Do you LOVE bugs as much as we do? One of our totally awesome friends makes totally awesome BUG TEES and counting flashcards to go with her total awesomeness. Check them out on Etsy at Creature Crawlers

XOXO From My Hearth to Yours

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