Praying mantis– a cute beast

It’s probably a good bet that most of us have found or seen a member of the family Stagmomantinae–maybe played with it– despite its saber-like forearms and cannibalistic appetite. And we lived to tell about it.

It’s time for the praying mantis, this cute beast of an insect, to start climbing out of its egg nest along with 200 of its brothers and sisters. And while adults have been seen feasting on hummingbirds, you can’t help but think of it as adorable– maybe five inches long, four stick-like legs, pretty yellow-green. And they’ll be happy to stare right back at you, their heads swiveling side to side with huge eyes (they have 3D imagery, by the way). As babies, they are less than a tiny one-half inch long.

on thumbnailRemember that they can fly. If you are watching them extremely closely, their sudden takeoff can be, um, frightening.

Lately, they have been touted as garden saviors and egg cases are sold. They’ll eat bugs–aphids and beetles and each other, actually. Females have been known to feast on the head of its male partner.  But at least one website has downgraded ‘savior’ to ‘helper’–  “Please note: Praying mantises are cool, but as biocontrols, they are not very effective. Order them as a showy novelty, symbol, or pet, but not for pest control purposes.”

Apparently, even all these babies (only one-fifth will become adults) can’t clean out the garden. And, they eat bees too– never a good thing.

Photographing adult praying mantises is always a treat, in part because it’s so easy. Generally, they’ll stare into the camera, apparently plotting your demise. You can move around them, and unlike most bugs, won’t run or fly away. They are pretty big (for insects), although finding them in the bushes with their green or brown camouflage (depending on the season) can sometimes be the photo safari’s most difficult step.

2 finger mantisNow, catching the babies is a different kind of project. They never sit still, have no intention of having the photographer for dinner, and therefore will run and hide from anything.

Less than a half-inch long, these praying mantis babies are nearly translucent at the hatch, they’ll blend into any background.

I picked up a few nest cases while on a trip to Delaware a month ago, and put them in the garden, near a flowering bush.  The nest was abuzz Saturday, and the crowd presented a wonderful challenge.  They crawled over my hands and arms and they were photographed in their active infancy.

In a month or two, they’ll be growing into their adult bodies, looking for food.

They’ll still be adorable, but it’s doubtful the Bad Bugs will share the enthusiasm.


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