The Praying Mantis

Praying Mantis on an aster plant late September

From whence arrived the praying mantis?
From outer space, or lost Atlantis?
I glimpse the grin, green metal mug
that masks the pseudo-saintly bug,
Orthopterous, also carnivorous,
And faintly whisper, Lord deliver us.

My husband drove us south on Rochester Road yesterday morning. “I saw another praying mantis while pruning lavender yesterday, then another behind the house,” he said.
He knows I’m fascinated with the insect, particularly the female’s pregnant abdomen. This season’s mantis first appeared a month ago on an aster plant in my backyard gardens.
           “They’re harmless and passive,” Mel continued. “You can touch and hold them. They don’t sting or bite.”
           “Unless you’re their mate,” I replied.
           His face drew that ‘I don’t think I’m going to like what comes next’ expression.
           I followed on cue. “While mating, the female eats the male’s head, then after, if she’s malnourished, she consumes his entire body. I’d call that an aggressive carnivore.”
           He kept his eyes on the road and pondered that gruesome bit of biology.
           It was autumn, years ago, when I first saw a praying mantis. Like Mel, I was pruning a lavender field. The insect escaped the blades of my electric hedge clippers; her long back legs ambulating the bush like a clown on stilts.
The past fifteen years, I’ve seen hundreds of Mantis religiosa on our property, praying for the perfect stem to attach her foamy egg case. The following spring I’d find hardened sacs that held up to 400 eggs. (No, I didn’t count them.)
The second stage of the insect’s life is a colorless nymph that resembles the adult. I’ve never witnessed in nature this bizarre birth through the sac, and that’s okay with me for the nymphs feed on each other.
Nymph survivors molt their exoskeleton up to ten times to maturity. That’s tenacity. Then the lifecycle repeats.
So I reckon the praying mantis mating season is happening in our gardens and fields as I speak. We’ve seen brown mantises also. I’ve never seen the pink variety. Scientists say the praying mantis is found everywhere in the world except Antarctica. Makes sense.
And some mantises are large enough to consume small birds, frogs, and snakes. Some people keep mantises for pets in a terrarium of sorts. I’ve read that folk of Latin and Greek persuasion consider this bug “one who divines.”
Well, that’s mythology for you. Personally, I’m hoping this slender green predator finds and devours the bad bugs that suck the life out of my plants, bees, and hens. But she’d better keep her fangs off my hummingbirds.
You see, dear Reader, I’ve read Melissa Breyer’s July 5, 2017 report on titled ‘Praying mantises released for pest control are hunting hummingbirds.’
I quote, “Native insects eating pests is a great thing; invasive insects eating native birds starts edging into the world-gone-wrong realm.”
Thus, I appreciate Ogden Nash’s astute observation about this pseudo-saintly bug and faintly whisper, Lord deliver my hummingbirds.