The Science of Praying Mantids By: The Science of Reality
Say hello to one of the internet’s favourite insects, the praying mantis, also referred to as the “preying” mantis. I ran across this single bugger on a friend’s doorstep this morning whilst it basked in the sun, and luckily had my camera, resulting in my first photographic experience with a mantid, amidst some very necessary nerding out over this amazing creature. Besides sharing my photographic work, I figured this would be a perfect opportunity for a much-needed scientific break down of mantids.
Taxonomy [Classification] via Insect Identification:
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylym: Arthropoda
- Class: Insecta
- Order: Mantodea
- Family: Mantidae
- Genus: Mantis
- Species: religiosa
Areas found in North America [But not restricted to]: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhoda Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, and Saskatchewan.
Praying mantids are named for their prominent two front legs that appear to be folded in a praying position when resting, or before snatching up prey, thus resulting in the second name of “preying” mantis. Amongst being one of the larger insects more commonly come across by people, it seems to be also one of the most misunderstood. It is a common procedure amongst humans who come into contact with such insects to ask the important questions, such as the most prevalent, will a praying mantis bite a human? The answer is quite simply no, it will not bite humans. The necessity of the question itself is understood in part due to the praying mantis’ large appearance, with full-grown adults measuring in length anywhere from 2-4+ inches, which have notably been recorded to be mistaken for hummingbirds whilst flying about. To add to it’s size, their quick, responsive gestures, and two, main-compound eyes that will follow you once you’ve caught it’s attention can be a bit formidable to some. This is especially true when they decide to open their large wings and take off, sometimes directly towards their human audience.
Mantids are made up of three distinct body regions including the head, the thorax, and the abdomen. The two front legs, seen used for “praying”, or “preying” depending on one’s preference, have multiple “spikes” attached, which you can see clearly in the first photo here: http://tinyurl.com/mn68fth and fifth photo here: http://tinyurl.com/lrh5rk3 when zoomed in on. These spikes on the front legs are used for ensnaring and holding prey to eat; when hunting prey, the action of the capture itself is usually too fast to be seen by the naked human eye. Such prey would consist of flies, moths, crickets, grasshoppers, and other insects.
Because of their eclectic choice of diet, mantids and mantid eggs are a useful pest-control-commodity sold to gardeners, farmers, conscientious landowners, and the like. Of course there is the ever-popular fact that the physically-larger females will indeed eat their male-mates sometimes, as well as the fact that after hatching, nymphs will eat their [weaker] siblings. Because females lay, on average, egg groups reaching into the hundreds, there are still plenty of nymphs after infant-cannibalistic-feasts to grow into full-adult mantids over the summer [which usually coincides with their biological growing season], and repeat the process of reproducing come autumn.
So what makes mantids so aesthetically-interesting? It might be their five, ever-watching eyes. In the second photo here: http://tinyurl.com/ocnkjnv, you can see a zoomed in version of the head and all fives eyes clearly, originally from the first photo. The two, foremost compound eyes are seen focusing on the camera, whilst the three small bumps arranged in a triangle between the antennae, also known as the simple eyes, sit subtly unnoticed. The compound eyes register images and colours, whilst the simple eyes are believed to tell the visual differences between light and dark. Perhaps a more unsettling visual trait would lie within the mantids’ ability to rotate their heads up to 180 degrees, much like an owl.
Mantids aren’t easy to spot, due to their physically camouflaged colours ranging from green, grey, tan, brown, white, and red that blend in with their natural surroundings of bushes, trees, grass, and plants. Sometimes people are lucky enough to catch them bathing in the sun during the day, as I did, either on a porch, or even more commonly on a household window or roof. They are also seen towards night-time because of their attraction to unnatural lighting, such as porch and house lights. Due to their life-cycle, they are most commonly seen by people during the month of September to early October, which is part of their mating season. So if you’re out and about this time of year, keep your eyes open, you might just see one of these entrancing insects watching you in the most unlikely of places.