Saturday, February 5, 2011

Praying Mantis: The Insect Yakuza


I LOVE PRAYING MANTISES! They're absolutely one of the most interesting bugs to raise and breed! Not only do tame easily and will more than willingly sit on one's shoulder for hours on end, they're personalities are also immensely interesting to observe! Ever talk on the phone with someone only to have one of your mantises fix his steely gaze on you and cock his head as though he were eavesdropping? well, I have and it is as unsettling as it is endearing! Unfortunately, adult mantises dont' live very long and some of the longest (and most taxing) times when raising mantids is when they are but wee nymphs, often shorter than an inch in length and still very active and jittery!
Ootheca! No, it's not some strange foreign language, but rather what this thing is. An Ootheca is the egg case of a praying mantis (and many other insects for that matter) which is carried around by the female for a period of time before being deposited in someplace safe where her young may emerge and have the highest chance of survival! With praying mantises, Ootheca are normally stuck on walls, high out of reach of predators, or on plant stems because while an adult praying mantis is practically the Yakuza of Insect world, they are still pretty vulnerable when they are little. As a result, many praying mantis nymphs resort to mimicry (pretending to be sticks and plant matter) or simply disguise themselves as other insects (in this case, ants) to do this. They eventually get out of their baby clothes, though, normally after the second molt.
This is Junior after his second molt. Although you can't see it from this angle, he's still got some black markings on his abdommen (a remnant from his days of masquerading as an ant)
Praying mantises are voracious predators and they will often strike (and eat!) anything that is smaller than them that moves within striking range! What more, praying mantises need to hunt, they literally live for it! Try offering a praying mantis a dead insect. More likely than not it will simply turn its head at you in scorn. In fact, praying mantises are so predatory they will even eat their own siblings, if they do not venture away from the Ootheca fast enough after hatching and I don't even have to tell you the age old anecdote of the praying mantis female devouring her mate. Sometimes WHILE he is still mating with her, in an act known as "sexual cannibalism"
Female Oriental mantis devours her mate while he is mating with her.
However, while they are extremely aggressive towards other insect. The praying mantis make very good pets to humans! Indeed many people have asked me this question "Do they bite?  Do they pinch? Are they poisonous?" and I can assure you that the answer to all three is one big "NO!" Praying Mantis rarely, if ever, attack animals that are bigger than them and in fact, when raised as nymphs, they grow more accustomed to human contact than any other insect I know off. Some owners have even reported being able to feed them by spearing pieces of banana on tootphics and placing it in front of the mantises face.
One of my pet mantises ( a male ) resting on the top of my hand.
Mantis nymph in jar
In conclusion, I guess Mantises are just really amazing creatures! The very nature of their stance, poised delicately on point with forelegs raised evokes the image of prayer and their swiftness and agility even gave rise to a martial art form! But still, perhaps one of the things I admire most in praying mantises, are their immense beauty. But don't take my word for it. Check these out.
Spiny flower mantis

Devil's Flower Mantis
Orchid flower mantis. Can you spot it???
 Aren't they simply gorgeous? These mantises are so named "flower-mantises" because of the way they fold their wings and legs to resemble flowers. All the easier to snare an attracted bee! In the meantime, it's almost impossible to think of the mantises as being closely related to the more disgusting, and loathed cockroach (which they are!)

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