Posts Tagged: praying mantis
Who doesn't love a praying mantis?
Certainly not a butterfly or a bee.
We humans, though, are fascinated by them. First, there's the problem of finding them. Often they're so camouflaged that we don't see them until they rustle the leaves and snatch a moving prey. An accidental shot of water from a sprinkler or faucet also will prompt them to emerge.
Lately we've been seeing a light brown praying mantis hiding in our fading lavender. At night it sleeps one stem over from the row of male longhorned bees, Melissodes agilis. The female bees return to their nests at night, but the males sleep on stems. (Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, calls this "The Boys' Night Out.")
Despite its proximity to many food sources, we've never seen this particular praying mantis catch or eat anything.
Maybe this is why: A biologist named Linda who lives in Groningen, the Netherlands, wrote this on her "Keeping Insects" website:
"A praying mantis won't eat a few days before it will shed its skin (molt). This is normal. After molting it will start to eat again. When a praying mantis will not eat even though it does not need to molt, it can help to offer it a different prey species. Do not worry too much, a mantis can live for 2 weeks without any food."
Molting? Sure enough. The next time we spotted the praying mantis, we also saw his discarded skin.
Praying mantis soaking up some sun rays. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Praying mantis lying in wait. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The praying mantis has just moulted. Note the shedded skin above it. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
But how can you sleep when you sense a predator in your midst?
Last night, as usual, was Boys' Night Out in our lavender patch. The male longhorned digger bees, Melissodes agilis (as identified by native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis), were sleeping on a lavender stem, as the females nested underground.
The males cluster or "roost" or "camp out" on the stems from around 6 at night until 7 in the morning, and it's a sight to see. A veritable bedroom community. Our lavender patch is a living room during the day and a bedroom at night.
Curiously enough, the males are very territorial in daylight hours as they compete for the females. We've seen them dive-bomb carpenter bees, bumble bees, sweat bees, butterflies, dragonflies and the males of their own species.
But even though they battle fiercely during the day, they sleep together peacefully at night.
Lately the roosting males seem to be vanishing. We're accustomed to seeing 12 to 15 on a stem. It's dwindled down to eight or nine. Where did they go? Did they find another place? A better "bed?" More room at the inn?
So at 6:30 a.m. today, we parted the lavender stems to observe the boys. Not as many as yesterday.
Wait, what's that? Could it be? It was. A praying mantis!
And the praying mantis, looking quite emaciated, was edging toward the sleeping boys.
Easy pickings. Too easy. Would it grab one of them?
It did not.
It climbed down the lavender stem, peered at the sleeping boys--hmm, breakfast?--and then moved to another lavender stem.
Close call? Maybe. Maybe not. We've heard that praying mantids prefer moving prey and these prey weren't moving.
A praying mantis climbs down a lavender stem to get a closer look at the sleeping boy bees, longhorned digger bees, Melissodes agilis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The praying mantis peers at what could be prey but they're sleeping. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The praying mantis "assumes the position" on another lavender stem as it waits for live prey. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Whew! That was close. A sleepy male longhorned digger bee gets ready to fly. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
So patient, so passionate.
The praying mantis looked hungry last Thursday when it perched on a coneflower in the half-acre Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven on Bee Biology Road, University of California, Davis.
Where's breakfast? Where's lunch? Where's dinner?
Nowhere to be found.
A few honey bees and sweat bees buzzed around the predator, but didn't land.
The praying mantis changed positions, much like a fisherman who feels "skunked" in one place will try his luck at another site.
It crawled up, down and around the flower.
Half an hour later, it slid beneath the coneflower, out of the hot sun. An umbrella for shade, a place to rest, a place to prey...
Praying mantis waits and waits. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Maybe hunting is better on the other side? (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
What's on the other side? (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Keeping cool beneath the coneflower. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
It's sort of like watching the grass grow, or the paint dry, but there's much more drama.
These, as children's book author Eric Carle writes in the children's book, "The Very Hungry Caterpillars," are very hungry caterpillars.
They're famished. They're ravenous. They could eat a horse (except they don't eat horses). And that's a good thing, as Martha Stewart would say.
If they're allowed to, these caterpillars will decimate the leaves, spin cocoons and eventually turn into spectacular reddish-orange butterflies (Agraulis vanillae).
So, you're sitting there watching the caterpillars eat. And out of the shadows, something else appears.
You think you're the only ones watching them eat? Think again.
A Gulf Fritillary caterpillar ready to eat the leaves of a passionflower vine. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
This Gulf Fritillary caterpillar is really chowing down. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A praying mantis watches a ravenous caterpillar. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
One thing's for certain--a praying mantis does not like to get wet.
If it were human, it would not dip a toe in the water and yell to its friends: "C'mon in, the water's fine!"
Water is not fine--not to a praying mantis.
While watering the tomato plants recently, we discovered a praying mantis beneath the leaves. Looking quite defensive, it emerged from its hiding place, not to prey but to check out the spray.
Then it quietly slipped back beneath the leaves, its long khaki-colored body looking quite conspicuous against a solid green background.
P. Mantis took a few minutes to remove the water droplets and then clumsily flew away.
Enough of that water bath!
Praying mantis, accidentally splashed with a water, tries to remove the droplets. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Drenched praying mantis raises a foreleg. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)