Praying mantis

The prehistoric Cretaceous Era is over, and the bones of Tyrannosaurus rex have been fossilized for millions of years, but in the Earth Lady’s garden there is a predatory insect, the Praying Mantis, that stalks and annihilates its prey with the same ruthless ferocity of that ancient reptile that once roamed the planet Earth.

The Praying Mantis is a species of the Order Mantodea, and after a little observation, it is obvious that its common name is a misnomer. Poised for a fatal attack on some poor, unsuspecting victim, its stance, with its forelegs clasped together as if in prayer, appears to be reverent, but be not deceived. This insect is in actuality a preying mantis, and to quote that old gospel hymn, it is the victim that is “standing in the need of prayer.”

Worldwide, there are thousands of different species of mantises, but most are found in the tropics. In North America, there are three common species. The Chinese Mantis and the European Mantis were introduced as a natural means of pest control and are common in the Northeast and Midwest. The Carolina Mantis is native to the Southeast.

The Praying Mantis is easily identified. It has large, compound, bulging eyes in a face that looks almost human, yet, somewhat sinister, and in a diabolical way, it can turn its head a full 180 degrees. Interestingly, the Praying Mantis only has one ear, and it is located on its belly. This ear is especially adapted for detecting ultrasounds.

The front legs of the Praying Mantis are lined with sharp spines, and when the mantis apprehends its prey, these legs hold the victim in a viselike, death grip. This Praying Mantis strikes with lightening speed, which is often imperceptible to the human eye, and its prey seldom escapes unscathed.

Even when it comes to romance, the Praying Mantis is not exactly a paragon of virtue. The female is a veritable femme fatale, and after mating and perhaps to ensure fidelity, she is inclined to kill and cannibalize the male.

This predatory insect does prey on insect pests, but they also prey on beneficial insects and other small creatures, and their appetite is voracious. And, alas, because the Praying Mantis also captures our beloved Ruby-throated Hummingbird, its reputation is forever sullied.

Recently, the Earth Lady watched a Praying Mantis attack an oblivious caterpillar. In a flash, the caterpillar was gone. If one reflects on the prowess of the Praying Mantis as a huntress, it is a relief to be a primate of the Homo sapiens species, which is considerably larger. Should the mantis genes ever mutate and giant Praying Mantises walked the Earth, humans would be in peril. ‘Tis a sobering thought.

In the natural world, predators are necessary to maintain the balance of nature, but the Praying Mantis can easily stretch the limits of tolerance. The common name for this insect is most deceptive. By displacing the vowel “a” with the vowel “e,” the true nature of this insect is illustrated. The Praying Mantis is in reality a Preying Mantis.

THE EARTH LADY by Margaret Gratz appears once a month in the Daily Journal.

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