October 16, 2013 —
September 8th promised to be a good day to observe migrating hawks; a cold front had just passed and there was a light to moderate wind from the northwest. Some hawks were counted at Sunrise Mountain, but there was another predator of the insect variety that caught my eye. Sitting on a bush, almost invisible as it blended in with leaves, was a mantis sitting in wait for its next meal.
I was looking at a Chinese mantis (Tendodera sinensis), larger of the two mantis species present in the region. The Praying Mantis (Mantis religiosa) is smaller, about 2.5 inches compared with the 5 inches of a full-grown Chinese mantis. Both species were introduced around the turn of the 20th century to aid in the reduction of crop pests. Mantises are effective predators; a mantis will sit for hours perfectly still for a passing insect; it relies on stealth and camouflage. When an insect comes within its reach, it strikes out with its powerful and spiny front legs and grabs the prey; the whole action takes about 1/20th of a second.
Mantises are regarded as beneficial insects due to their voracious appetite for insect pests such as grasshoppers, locusts and other vegetable eaters, but they may also occasionally predate beneficial bees and butterflies. Some commercial outlets sell mantis egg masses, or ootheca, to gardeners. Mantises do reproduce in the wild; mating is sometimes fatal for the male due to the female’s habit of sometimes eating the male after mating. The eggs will overwinter and tiny mantis nymphs will hatch the following spring. The existing adults are full size and thus easier to spot now, but they are not long for this world as the cold weather marks the end of their lifecycle.