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Wildlife Wonders

Today is Praying Mantis Day!

The European Praying Mantis (Mantis religiosa) is Connecticut’s state insect.  I never really understood why in 1977 it was chosen for the state insect since it was not native to Connecticut.  It originated in Northern Africa, Southern Europe and temperate areas of Asia.  It has been found in the northeastern United States for just over 100 years.  On top of that it is closely related to the cockroach and although originally released for pest control it is a carnivorous ambush predator and may eat as many beneficial insects as pests.  I guess I needed to do a little research to gain a better appreciation for our state insect. 

The praying mantis is named for their prominent front legs that are bent and held together in a prayer position.  It is very recognizable and looks like an alien being with its triangular shaped head that sits on an elongated thorax that has the appearance of a neck.  They have great 3D vision, in addition to the two large bulging eyes they have three simple eyes between them.   

It is the only insect that can turn its head side to side 180o.  They extend their forelegs in 50 thousandths of a second, so quickly it is hard to see, and grasp their prey.  They have spikes on their legs that act like another set of jaws to pin their victims.  They only eat live food – aphids, grasshoppers, crickets, moths, flies, spiders and beneficial pollinators  such as butterflies and honeybees.  They have even been known to eat hummingbirds and even their own kind.  In their defense many more birds eat them than they eat birds.  Other predators include frogs, spiders and bats.  They can detect ultrasound to help in their defense of being eaten by bats. 

Females have been seen eating their partners during mating, She needs a lot of food during this time and this is seen as a way to fuel the survival of the species.  Eggs are laid in the fall. Egg cases, called oothecae, at first look soft and foamy, when they dry up they look like tan styrofoam.  They contain about 100 eggs and will hatch out in spring or early summer.  They look like the adults and as they grow they will shed their exoskeleton 6-9 times before becoming adult size of up to 6 inches long.  They live less than a year.

Praying mantises are masters of disguise.  Their main defense is camouflage.  Some can mimic flowers, leaves or sticks.  They can be brown or green.  Green is the more common color.  There are over 2,000 different species worldwide and in the tropics there is a pink praying mantis that resembles an orchid.

Some people believe that praying mantises have supernatural powers.  The “mantis” name comes from the Greek for “prophet”.  Ancient Egyptians believed they acted as guides into eternal life.  Ancient Chinese attribute praying mantis as having courage and fearlessness. Today it is a symbol of Chinese martial arts.  In France it is believed if you become lost they will guide you home.  Because of the “praying hands” some Christians believe if found in your house it means angels are watching over you.  Native Americans believe there are different animal guides or “totem animals” that come in and out of our lives.  If the praying mantis is your totem animal you have learned to take your time and lead your life at a silent pace.  You never make any movement without careful thought.  You are capable of quick and decisive action when opportunity presents itself…sound familiar?

Should the praying mantis have been selected as Connecticut’s state insect?  After researching it, I must say I now have a greater appreciation for this “marvel of the insect world”!Mantids | Bug Week 2020 (July 19-25th)

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