Posts Tagged: praying mantis
It's true. You can't put a limit on anything.
The praying mantis, aka Lean Green Machine, dived off the high board, did a reverse 3-1/2 double somersault with 1/2 twist and swam to the edge of the Olympic-sized pool. He gingerly lifted himself out of the water as a cheering spectator handed him a bouquet of red roses.
Well, it didn't happen quite that way.
The praying mantis entered our shallow birdbath—maybe a baptismal ceremony?—and using his best dog-paddle, praying-mantis stroke, swam across the birdbath. Then he leaped onto a yellow rose occupied by a bee.
Maybe he was simply “wetting” his appetite (er, “whetting” his appetite).
Fish swim. Crocodiles swim. Snakes swim. Dogs swim. Cats swim. And praying mantids swim.
Praying mantids are observant critters. They know where to go for breakfast, lunch and dinner and a few snacks in between. A bee garden is their supermarket, a veritable one-stop shopping experience. No carts, credit cards or courtesy calls needed.
Praying mantids are so camouflaged that you rarely see them. But when you're watering the plants in the early morning, a spray of water will prompt them to emerge. Displeased and disgruntled. Peeved and perturbed. Kicking and kvetching. This is no "Good-morning-sunshine!" kind of greeting.
In our family bee garden, they perch on the Mexican sunflower (Tithonia) and lie in wait for prey. You'll see them swiveling their heads at 180 degrees as they patiently wait to ambush an unsuspecting bee or butterfly. Their spiked forelegs ensure there's no escape.
We've all heard that a female praying mantis will sometimes behead and eat her mate. We've all heard that the hundred or so nymphs that hatch from the egg case will eat their brothers and sisters. They've been doing this for 150 million years or so.
Some teachers keep praying mantids in their classroom. Some folks keep praying mantids as pets. We think we'll train ours to be the insect version of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, who medaled 22 times, 18 of them gold.
A praying mantis eyes a Gulf Fritillary butterfly. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A praying mantis "wetting," er, "whetting" his appetite. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The praying mantis emerges from his morning swim. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
No, no, no, you got it all wrong!
I said “Please don't eat the pollinators! No butterflies and no bees. Eat the flies, gnats, mosquitoes, aphids and stink bugs. No butterflies or bees.”
Sadly, the praying mantis in our family bee garden does not listen to me. On Thursday morning, July 31 the praying mantis snagged and devoured a Western tiger swallowtail that made the fatal mistake of landing on his Mexican sunflower (Tithonia)
On Sunday morning, Aug. 2, while perched on the same flower, the praying mantis polished off a honey bee.
I was walking through the garden at the time but never saw the strike. One second he's lying in wait, and the next second, his powerful forelegs are gripping a honey bee.
You don't want to know what happened after that.
Still, I wonder...did the honey bee manage to sting him?
Praying mantis snags a honey bee. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Praying mantis getting a better grip. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
It's the end for this honey bee. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
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)