Thursday, December 2, 2010

Chinese Mantid

Not long ago, before the temperatures plunged and winter set in (30 degrees as I write!), I saw my last mantis of the season.

A lot of people are unaware that nearly all of the "praying" mantids that they see are not native to these parts. They are an Asian import, and we'll have a look at the whopper that I saw, below.

Massive Chinese Mantis, Tenodera aridifolia, clambers over the fruit of a Staghorn Sumac, Rhus typhina.

These mantids were brought to the New World at the tail end of the 19th century, as it was thought that these voracious predators would provide efficient pest control around gardens. That they might, but mantids are not choosy about their victims and will snatch anything they can subdue. I have even seen photos of them with hummingbirds in their clutches!

Non-nativeness aside, mantids are very cool bugs. They possess an almost eery humanlike demeanor, and will watch you quite closely, turning their ET-looking triangular head to follow your movements.

Chinese mantids are wait and pounce hunters, sluggishly lurking in the foliage until some hapless lesser organism bumbles into range. Then, with a quick lunge, the mantis seizes the prey in what have to rank high among the most formidable insect forelegs out there. Armed with stiff spines, the mantis squeezes its victim in a scissor lock, impaling it with numerous needles.

Once the creature is thoroughly subdued, the mantid will proceed to slowly munch away at the often still living prey, with what strikes me as a disproportionately small mouth. I've also noticed that the mantid seems to enjoy starting its snack with the head. I've said this before, and I'll say it again - don't reincarnate yourself as a small insect. Something like this Chinese Mantid is apt to create your worst nightmare.

Many is the boy - and probably girl - who has brought a mantid egg case home. These are those brown, somewhat spherical clusters that look like they were sprayed out of styrofoam. I did one winter, when I was but a wee lad. Smart fellow that I was, I put the egg case and part of the plant that it was attached to in an open jar, never thinking that the warmth of the house might accelerate the hatch rate a bit. It did, and one morning we were greeted by scads of Lilliputian mantids clambering throughout the lower level of the house. My mother may well still remember that episode.

My advice, should you wish to raise some of these Chinese mantids as pets? Put a lid on the jar.

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13 comments:

Carol said...

It never occurred to me that the mantids were introduced to the US. Are there any native mantids?

Jim McCormac said...

Hi Carol,

Yes, we've got at least one native, the Carolina Mantid, a much smaller animal, and far scarcer.

Cape May Wren said...

When I was in fifth grade our class had a lid on our egg-case jar. How were we to know that when we took off the lid to reduce the condensation in the jar that the wee bitty mantids would take the opportunity to hatch?! With similar results to yours...

And yes, those are formidable claws mantids have. I don't recommend picking up one that has been stepped on and had its head smashed: the brain is no longer capable of sending out signals to the body. It took someone else with two hands free to pry the thing off my finger. That would have been about sixth grade, and to this day I don't pick up large mantises... *lol*

Vincent Lucas said...

Check out this mantid I photographed down here in Florida:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/leppyone/4917994717/

pambirds said...

Does this Chinese mantid also appear in brown? The last one I saw this season looked like yours but was brown on the top (wing portion). Thanks for your graphic description of the mantis habits(HA).

Jim McCormac said...

Sounds like you were scarred, literally and figuratively, by the mantid, CM wren!

Jim McCormac said...

Hi Pam,

Apparently Chinese Mantids are variable in color. I don't know if it is an age thing, with older individuals becoming browner, or what. Not a very satisfactory answer; maybe someone else knows.

Cool Grass-like Mantid, Vince!

Linda said...

I taught 7th grade Life Science for many years. I had a large plexiglass cage and I would raise fruit flies and Chinese Mantids in the fall. The students would catch Mantids for me. We would put a female and multiple males in the cage. She would mate multiple times with usually only the males' wings and legs on the cage floor in the morning. The female would lay eggs in October and/or November. In the indoor cage, she would die usually in early December. In December or January, the eggs would hatch with hundreds of babies. The baby mantids would eat the fruit flies, each other and anything else in the cage. In the end (April/May) there would be a couple of mantids left that we would release outside.

I had a student catch and bring a couple of fence lizards from southern Ohio. The only cage I had set up was the mantids large cage so I put the lizards in that cage until I had a planning period at the end of the day. I was teaching and one of my students sort of freaked out. I ran to the cage and the female mantid was eating the lizard's head so I covered the cage and just let her eat all she wanted out of the sight of the students. 8th period, I got the other lizard out of the cage plus the remains of the deceased headless lizard. Chinese Mantids really got my respect.

Jim McCormac said...

That's a very cool story, Linda! Major turnabout is fair play situation, with the Alpha insect eating the insect-eating reptile!

Randy Kreager said...

Did you ever see what happens when a human receives a bite from one of these? When I was a boy, our neighbor lady was bitten on the hand and her hand swelled up like a catcher's mitt! It was red, hot, and huge!!

Jim McCormac said...

Hmmm... thanks for the warning, Randy - guess we'll have to be a bit more careful with these beasts!

mangoverde said...

This one was interested in my camera last summer.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SwDDxGRDGlI

Cheers,
Bill Hull
Cincinnati

Jim McCormac said...

Very nice vid, Bill, and that's probably about the last sight a mantid's victim sees.