Posts Tagged: praying mantis
If I were in charge of a praying mantis' daily diet, I would enforce one stringent rule: "Please don't eat the pollinators! Do not, I repeat, target the bees or butterflies. Leave them alone!"
The mundane menu would include flies, gnats, stink bugs, aphids, mosquitoes, yellowjackets, grasshoppers, leaffooted bugs and not much else.
But since I'm not likely to be employed as the chef of a praying mantis' diet, these predators can--and do--eat what they want.
This morning I encountered a praying mantis perched on a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia) in our bee garden. He saw me. He swiveled his head about 180 degrees as he followed me with his five keen eyes--two large compound eyes and three smaller simple eyes. Hmm, not potential prey. He went about "praying"--bending his front legs and "assuming the position."
Okay, I thought. "Go catch a fly, gnat, stink bug, aphid, mosquito, yellowjacket, grasshopper or leaffooted bug."
So, what did he catch? A beautiful Western tiger swallowtail (Papilio rutulus) which made the fatal mistake of landing on his flower.
Yes, a praying mantis has to eat. Yes, he was hungry. Yes, it's nature. But why not a stink bug?
He polished off a butterfly.
"Yummy!" declared a colleague.
A praying mantis eyes the photographer. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The praying mantis quickly snatches a Western tiger swallowtail. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The predator gripping his prey. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Predator polishing off his prey. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
What a perfect camouflage!
Have you ever seen a green praying mantis hiding among the green growth in your garden?
Concealed. Disguised. Camouflaged.
The praying mantis is a patient insect. It will lurk for hours in its familiar prayer-like position, ready to ambush passing prey, usually an unsuspecting insect like a honey bee, bumble bee, sweat bee or grasshopper. Then with a movement faster than you can say "What the..." it will strike, grabbing its prey with its spiked forelegs. The target, unable to escape the deadly grip, becomes its meal. No catch and release here!
There's a reason why many folks have never seen a praying mantis. It's like trying to find Waldo, especially when the mantis is camouflaged in the vegetation and lying motionless.
Wikipedia tell us that the mantids, in the order Mantodea, comprise more than 2400 species and about 430 genera in 15 families worldwide. Some 20 species occur in North America, according to entomologist Gilbert Waldbauer of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Author of The Handy Bug Answer Book, Waldbauer writes that the introduced Chinese mantis is the largest "at a length of asmuch as four inches."
Camouflaged praying mantis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Exposed! Praying mantis peering around green stems. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
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)