The Praying Mantis–Up Close and Personal

     A few weeks ago, I was working at my outdoor office (a table on the back deck, overlooking the forest), when I noticed something moving at the edge of the deck, about 10 feet from me.

     Back and forth, back and forth it went in small movements.  It was a praying mantis, I realized!  Then the bobbing ceased,  and the insect stood motionless.   

     I ran inside to get my camera.  And once back outside, I saw that the insect remained just as before, in the same statue-like pose.  

     But as I moved closer, crouching to get a good picture, the insect suddenly turned its large, well-defined head to the side, to face me.  Two green, bulbous eyes stared from the heart-shaped head.  As we looked at each other, I felt a little unnerved.  It seemed that the two of us were confronting each other, taking one another’s measure.  It was a sensation I’d never experienced with an insect.  After the praying mantis seemed to have gotten a good look at me, it turned its head forward again and resumed its motionless stance.

     After I got a few photos of the creature, it began bobbing again, only this time it rocked from side to side.  And as it rocked, the praying mantis gradually turned its body away from me.  After it had shifted its position about 90 degrees, it stopped moving.  Completely.

     The praying mantis, so large in the insect world, is a sight to behold.  And while I think of the praying mantis as green, this one was more brown than green.  Green seemed to protrude only along the insect’s sides, from under a layer of brown that covered the insect’s head and back.

     After my ‘encounter’ with the praying mantis, I wanted to know more.  So I did a little reading.  And here are some things I learned:

  • There are more than 1,800 praying mantis species in the world, 20 of them in North America.
  • Praying mantises are carnivores, eating insects, turtles, mice, frogs, even small birds!
  • The praying mantis strikes its pray in just 30-50 thousandths of a second, much faster than the human eye can follow.
  • The ability of the praying mantis to rotate its head from side to side is almost unseen among insects.
  • By moving its head, the praying mantis measures the distance between itself and another object.  This binocular triangulation is seen as proof of stereoscopic vision, which, except for the praying mantis, is found only in vertebrates.
  • The praying mantis’s swaying is not well-understood.  Its purpose may be to mimic wind-blown foliage.
  • The lifespan of the praying mantis extends from spring to fall of a single year.
  • After the famous late summer mating ritual (actually, most of the time the male does escape with his head intact), the female lays 30-300 eggs.  The egg case hardens to protect the contents from predators, and the nymphs hatch in the spring. –April Moore       

 

 

The praying mantis, mostly brown, with green along the sides

The praying mantis, mostly brown, with green along the sides

  

The praying mantis turns its head to look at me

The praying mantis turns its head to look at me

10 Responses to “The Praying Mantis–Up Close and Personal”

  1. Diane Artz Furlong Says:

    I love praying mantises (manti?)! Their seemingly human way of looking at you is just breathtaking. When I was a girl, about 9, I took an egg case to school with me one beautiful fall morning. The teacher stuck it on a hook above a bulletin board in our classroom and there it hung all winter. We’d forgotten it until one warm spring day upon returning to the classroom after outside recess, we discovered little baby praying mantises all over the classroom. Pandemonium ensued and I can still hear the teacher’s exclamations but of what happened to all those little babies I have no memory. It still makes me laugh.

  2. April Says:

    Wow, Diane. What an experience. I can see why you still remember it!

  3. Jim Z. Says:

    Amazing photos!

  4. Judy Muller Says:

    A delightful observation and fascinating facts, and I love Diane’s story. This is so interesting, as just a half hour ago I was out in my yard, picking up fallen apples from under my tree, when I spied a very large, emerald green, exquisitely beautiful praying mantis. I hadn’t seen a green one like this in years. I found myself talking to it, cooing “You are SO beautiful!’ I felt a bit foolish. But I did not have April’s luck; when I went inside to fetch my camera, sure that this static creature would remain just where I had left him (or her), I was dismayed to find it nowhere in sight. Had I thought it might disappear so completely, I would have extended my encounter.

    Now, Dear April, if this isn’t synchronicity?

  5. Priscilla Says:

    What a cool experience! I enjoyed learning more about this creature. It hardly seems like an insect. I encountered one only once, on a kitchen wall in an apartment I shared in Providence, RI – a bit frightening at the time.

  6. Lena Says:

    April, when I learned about the praying mantis in my master gardeners course I thought that this creature might be best called PREYing mantis, since it voraciously devours prey! What a wonderful twist of English to allow this insect’s pose and behavior to be described through similar sounding words! Great photos, thanks for posting! :-)

  7. Sondra Says:

    April…I just finished reading your posting regarding the Praying Mantis and loved it of course as the PM has been my favorite insect since I was a 5 year old little girl and found one in the field next to my apt…in NJ,,,now 62 years later, they are still my favorites….and I had one the other day directly stare at me too as I tried to remove it gently from the living room screen (he/she was on the inside of the screen!!! ) Well, he/she (me too) made it outside safely, but not before I also had the unsettling face to face stare….

    So just now I checked the PM’s blog and I am sure you can imagine HIS take on your encounter…he just wished you would stop staring!!! and just leave him alone…oh well, I just wonder if Charles D. or John Audubon had any of these sightings!! and experiences….love to you…and thanks for taking the pictures…S

  8. Al Kuznicki Says:

    ,,’ I am really thankful to this topic because it really gives great information “~,

  9. Angel Weiler Says:

    I would really love to know what the swaying is REALLY for because a praying mantis got in my apt when i went out the door to school i saw something rush in and i was running late so i said “eh forget it” and when i came home a beautiful praying mantis was on top of my bathroom door and it looked directly at me, observed me, and then looked away and started heavy swaying. I don’t know if it is mad at me or not because when i grow up i would like to be an animal expert and i want to know these things.

  10. Ryan Says:

    As the praying mantis eye are so close together they have no depth perception. this is why they sway, to get a feel of how everything is moving and so they can judge distances.

    Source: expert info and observing my own giant asian mantis.

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