the Praying Mantis

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The Praying Mantis is a bizarre and fascinating creature. It looks like something straight out of a science fiction movie, yet every time I see one I am immediately drawn to it. I had several as as pets when I was a young boy and when my children were growing-up I would encourage them to hold one just so they wouldn’t be so creeped-out by them later in life.

The Mantis almost seems to have an alien intelligence about him. You’ll see what I mean the first time one turns that large triangular head (which swivels 180 degrees to either side) in your direction intent on making eye contact with you. For the most part, they are totally harmless to humans, very interesting to watch, and a great addition to any garden, especially if you have trouble with other insect pest. Unfortunately, they have been known to take small frogs, lizards, and even an occasional hummingbird too.

The Praying Mantis counts on camouflage and stealth to find food and keep from becoming prey himself. He is a patient hunter moving very slowly and often not at all for hours on end. However, once an unsuspecting meal comes into range, he can move those spiked forelegs at lightning speed. So fast in fact, the human eye cannot always see it happen.

In my part of the world (Midwest United States) one generation develops each season. In the autumn, the females lay eggs in a large mass or cluster (an inch or so long), in a frothy, gummy substance glued to tree twigs or plant stems and sometimes other objects too. As the egg case dries, it tends to look like Styrofoam or perhaps parchment paper. Up to 2000 tiny eggs overwinter while tucked safely away in the case. Mantis nymphs emerge from the egg mass in the spring or early summer depending on the weather.

The compound eyes of the Mantis are a work of art. They are capable of stereoscopic vision, allowing the Mantis to accurately gauge distances in the same manner as most mammalian counterparts. Their eyes are so sensitive, they can detect the slightest of movement up to 60 feet away. But there is something even cooler than that!! The faceted nature of this predator’s eye gives the appearance that there is a black pupil staring back at you when in fact there is not. So convincing is this optical illusion, even the camera is fooled. And I can assure you while positioning myself at different angles taking these shots, they seemed to follow me everywhere I went. In addition to this curious feature, the entire surface of the eyes change color according to the amount of ambient light - they are usually light green or tan in sunlight, and chocolate brown at twilight or in low light conditions.

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Jerry Dalrymple

Nature and wildlife photography

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