Wondrous Wildlife

By Vern and Lori Gieger

Say Your Prayers


wonderousThe praying mantis looks innocent enough, appearing to kneel as if in reverence, holding its front legs as if in prayer. Swiveling its head from side to side (the only insect in the world able to do this) as if surveying the congregation of its church, It walks slowly, meekly, like a monk in a holy trance. But if you are a bug, you don’t want to meet up with a praying mantis.

Let an insect, say a grasshopper or scorpion, wander too near and the praying mantis strikes like a flash of lightening, using its powerful front legs to snatch up the unsuspecting victim, locking it tightly in a barbed nutcracker-like clinch. A Mantis will eat just about any insect, even another mantis. Let another praying mantis wander too near, and the two may join in a savage fight to the death, with the winner eating the loser, utterly undeterred by this act of cannibalism. Even her mate is not safe; the female, always the larger and stronger of the two, may attack and eat the father of her own children.

The praying mantis is throughout the world and due to its reverent appearance on one hand and bloodthirsty behavior on the other it has given rise to many a myth. As suggested by its very name, mantis, which means prophet or seer, a being with spiritual or mystical powers. The praying mantis supposedly directed pilgrims to Mecca, the holiest site in the Islamic world.

It became a god, restored life, bestowed good luck, and helped find lost sheep and goats in Africa. It helped wandering lovers and lost children find their way home in France. Its eggs cured bed-wetting in China. Its brown defensive liquid blinded men and killed horses and mules in the United States. And I thought they just ate bugs!

Driven by hunger from the time of its hatching, it may eat its brothers and sisters if it can find no other food. Even more ravenous by the time it reaches adulthood, it may either ambush or stalk its prey. It strikes so swiftly that you can scarcely see the movement. It uses the spines on its front legs to impale and clutch its prey, immediately beginning to feed. Given the opportunity, it may hold one victim with one front leg and snatch another with the other front leg, feeding gluttonously on them both. While the praying mantis prefers cockroaches and flies, it may attack any number of other insects including spiders, scorpions, etc.

The praying mantis lives six to eight months on average. It hatches from an egg sack, looking like a tiny adult without wings. Once mature, it seeks a mate. The male may make the ultimate sacrifice, serving as a meal for his mate, but if he is fast and lucky he may make his escape, flying away to safety. The female crafts her egg sack, a sculptural jewel perhaps half the size of your little finger. Like a master builder, she places her eggs by the dozens in a carefully braided pattern. She covers the sack with a froth that dries and hardens like plaster. She’ll attach the sack to a twig or the trunk of a tree, and then die within a couple of weeks.

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