13 Aug Praying Mantis
My previous post was on one of the most powerful predators in the world of arthropods, the Jumping Spiders. This one is about another family of arthropods, that are as much, if not more, notorious of hunters, as the jumpers. They are the Mantises.
Mantis, more popularly known as the Praying Mantis ( owing to the way it’s front pair of legs are held, raised up, as if in a position of prayer ) also relies on powerful vision and stealth for hunting and has the necessary equipment for getting the job done.
It’s huge, widely spaced and laterally positioned eyes, provide a spread out field of vision. A flexible joint at the intersection of its head and the thorax region enables the mantis to swivel it’s head a full 180 degrees! This helps it to be very aware of it’s surroundings and spot any potential prey, very effectively. The powerful, slightly elongated pair of forelegs are divided into couple of folding sections and adorned with sharp, saw-toothed, spikes. These help in capturing and securely holding on to its prey. With one quick swipe of its spiked forelegs, a mantis is capable of snapping the head out of its prey, all too easily. If I were an insect on the food menu of a mantis, I would be very, very prudent and keep my distance :-)
In addition to the above, some of the species of mantises have the ability to camouflage very well. This, along with their ability to stay completely motionless, make them, quite literally, invisible in their environment.
Here’s one which is amazingly camouflaged…Can you spot it ? :-)
As they depend on sight for hunting, they are mostly diurnal ( active during the day ) hunters. Also, most of them do not chase around their prey. Instead, they prefer using their camouflage and stillness to lie in wait for an unsuspecting prey to wander within reach.
And, when one does fall in their zone, they snap it up in a flash and start feeding it on it, almost instantly. They use the powerful mandibles in their mouth parts, to chew out the prey, while securely gripping on to it with one of their spiked forelegs. The other foreleg could be used to dismember the prey. Very, very, raw at it, but very effective.
They are not prejudiced about their menu per se. They do sometimes eat their own kind, when such an opportunity comes by. Size does seem to matter in this case. The smaller mantis here had no chance against a much bigger opponent.
A female mantis deposits her eggs usually on a stalk of a plant or a stem. Sometimes, they seem to use strange places, like here, it has used the grills of a mosquito net in my house :-) After laying the eggs, the female covers them with some kind of a Styrofoam like material, it secretes, which hardens into a protective shell. This egg case or the ‘Ootheca’, provides very effective protection against external elements.
After time, tiny mantises, slowly, begin emerging from the egg case. One or two heads start popping out.
Soon, there is a bunch of them, teeming all over the place. The newly emerged mantis nymphs look very similar to a bunch of ants. They use this similarity as protection against predation and also as a way to be among ants and use them as a source of their food.
These tiny mantis nymphs are instinctively aggressive, right from the start and could eat their siblings if food is scarce. Once, out, slowly, they start dispersing and are on their way to run, on their cycle of life.