Friday, February 24, 2012

Mantises and their Feeding Habits

Hey ya'll 

check out the latest addition to our creepy-crawly family!!! 

This is Dian-Dian, (點點) which means small in Chinese because she is probably one of the smallest mantids of her species that I have ever raised! However though small in stature she may be, Dian-Dian is perhaps one of the most exuberant and spunky mantises I've ever had the pleasure of raising. Though this might border a little too closely along the lines of anthropomorphism, it never fails to astound me the amount of "personality" praying mantises seem to have. Consequently you can imagine that while most mantises (especially the more robust females) would eat just about anything and everything that moves  (my very first, Artemis, would even eat large dead dragonflies if I tied them on a string and waved them in front of her) there are others who are slightly more picky than the rest. One of our mantises, Diana, for instance would only eat crickets and nothing else! Not a fat moth, offered enticingly, or even a meal worm with its side split open to reveal its juicy innards could tempt her. Fortunately this only occurs in very rare cases and many will eat a wide variety of insects and invertebrates if you can get them to try it first.

Not surprisingly, between an insect it is familiar with and one that is newly introduced, a praying mantis will almost always go for the familiar one. This is perhaps some evolutionary trait which has enabled the mantis to survive in the wild by avoiding distasteful, or otherwise poisonous or dangerous foe. This can be quite frustrating in captivity, however, because while a caretaker is highly unlikely to feed any of the former to a mantis, the mantises own preoccupation with food that is familiar with can make it difficult to offer it a more varied diet. Similarly, this can become something of a necessity when a specific feeder insect is out of stock or unavailable for purchase at the local pet-store. One of my personal favorite of insects to feed my carnivorous charges:

Super worms (or meal worms as they are sometimes called) are really the larval form of a species of beetle, and while they may not always be readily available at many pet stores near me, I like using them as feeder insects because unlike crickets (which are more commonly sold) they do not smell as bad and they seem to be able to last longer. That aside they are also juicier and simply oozing with what I am told is fatty goodness (I wouldn't know as I've never tasted one before). Problem is, though many of my mantises are brave enough to tackle prey much larger than themselves, even the most rambunctious ones seem to shy away from these meal worms which can give a startling jolt-wriggle when they are picked up. As such, a little coaxing is sometimes necessary. I do this by "force-feeding", and for those of you out there who might be a little alarmed, it is really not as horrid as it sounds... not for the mantis anyway.

I start by chopping off the head of the meal-worm. Again, this need not be as messy as it sounds and all you really need to do is... well, snip off the head end of the worm with a pair of scissors. Now, if for whatever reason you find this disturbing I suggest you stop reading now although, I will remind you that the worm was about to be macerated alive by the insect equivalent of the Alien from ALIENS so perhaps chopping off its head so that it need not "see" this process happening might be a blessing after all. Conversely if that still bothers you, you can always kill the worm first by putting it in the refrigerator for five minutes. Anyway when I am done with that,  grip the other end of the worm firmly with a pair of tweezers, then squeeze really hard until... well bits of it come out of the "newly-made" entrance on the top. Carefully, and with some deftness about you, shove this end straight for the mantises face.

Now, this has to be done rather quickly and skillfully because you can be sure than if you're doing this for the first time that the mantis is going to object. What Dian-Dian does (I'm still in the process of "training" her) is wave her arms about furiously in a karate chopping action that sends bits of worm guts flying everywhere which can get quite messy so you want to avoid this if possible. If you find that you can't seem to get the oozing end of the worm into her mouth, what you might do alternatively is wipe the stuff on her front claws. I think they must feel the same way I do about the worm guts because they will waste no time to "lick" it up (their version of cleaning) and when they do, I often find that they no longer object to it so much were you to place the worm closer to their mouth. A few nibbles later and they might even extend a claw to "take" the worm from your tweezers. 

Indeed with all this talk about insects and their preference food, one cannot help but entertain the idea of the possibility of these amazing animals having individual characteristics. Indeed Sir David Attenborough has himself remarked on the seemingly individual characteristics of bolas spiders his cameraman observed while filming on the set of Life in the Undergrowth. Personally I have yet to come to a conclusion myself, but perhaps, if I manage to obtain more mantises and/or spiders for my menagerie, I can attempt to document some observations on my own. 


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