That the praying mantis, Mantis religiosa, was a pregnant female was obvious. Cochise County, Arizona, had come through for us again. My wife and I love these bright green insects above all other six-leggeds; every contact is a true privilege.
Just about a year ago, a male showed up, hanging on the outside of my office window screen. He earned himself a post, complete with photographs.
This female made her appearance in a more dramatic–and hazardous–way.
Out back of where we park the camp trailer, the monsoon rains of 2013 had produced an awesome crop of wild, happy vegetation. Some plants grew taller than me this summer, and there were a lot of them. That specific area, however, needed to be weed whacked for real. We’re going to have a friend with a backhoe dig a wide, shallow hole right there, then set a 2825 gallon water storage tank partially underground.
There were other things going on. The brush cutter didn’t get to start doing its thing till pretty late in the afternoon. The shadows were already getting long, and the job ahead of us looked a tad intimidating.
Still, the Rhino brush cutter blades on the Ryobi weed whacker power head make pretty quick work of it. It pays to be careful, of course. Mojave green rattlesnakes frequent this acreage on occasion, and there were five inch long desert centipedes resting under two of the four old rotten pieces of OSB strand board that had to be moved elsewhere.
The variety of vegetation is virtually endless, too. In among the rest of it, there are plants that produce little green gourds and others that have fruits or seed pods that look like gourds.
One of those gourd-looking things suddenly moved under its own power.
Oh. A closer look revealed a large praying mantis, her abdomen swollen and ready to give birth shortly. Not a gourd. Not a gourd at all.
I’d just weed whacked that spot. Had I hurt her?
Thankfully, no. A closer inspection of the beautiful insect showed all appendages at full strength and length and in good working order.
The thing that makes Pam and me love the mantids the most, without a doubt, is the fact that they’re just as attracted to us as we are to them. Every praying mantis we’ve encountered in the past ten years has been interested in being friendly, seeming to know we’d never ever wish them the slightest harm.
Clearly, I’d rocked her world with the weed whacker, but she didn’t seem to hold it against me. As I circled her position, looking to get as many camera angles as possible, she’d move a little–sometimes–but she never went far, and she kept a curious eye on my activities without ever showing the slightest bit of alarm.
In fact, the more pictures I took, the more the idea kept nagging at me: It seemed like she really, really wanted to say hello to the camera. It didn’t even bother her when I got behind her and took pictures that made her butt look big.
Most females would complain about that.
Finally, I decided to test my theory. Was this praying mantis truly attracted to me and to the camera? Did we have a real mental, perhaps even spiritual, rapport? Or was I imagining things?
There was one way to find out. I circled back in front of her, pointed the camera lens at her face from a distance of no more than four or five inches, held position…and, yes! She scrambled forward, grateful that I’d gotten her message.
The instant she could reach the camera, she climbed right up over the camera lens, onto my hand, up my shirtsleeve…and disappeared from view, somewhere around behind me, hitching a ride.
Cool. Way, way cool.
With the praying mantis out of sight but definitely somewhere up high on my shirt, what next? Eh?
Eventually, I decided to move out of the weed whacking area, over to open ground. Perhaps, if Pam was still in the laundry shed, I could ask her if the visitor was still hitching a ride.
You’d think I could feel where she was, but hey. I’m not that sensitive. I’m a guy.
I never did find Pam, so it was up to me.
At one point, the mantis moved around–having traveled up my left arm–and meandered down my right sleeve. I’m not the best left handed photographer in the world but did manage to snap one shot of that.
When my new friend reached the wrist on that right side, however, she turned around and headed back uphill, once again disappearing somewhere behind me.
Ver-r-ry carefully, I shucked my shirt. Yep. There she was, sure enough–and she didn’t mind meandering onto the back of my left hand, either.
From there, it seemed like it was time for her to get on with her praying mantis duties and me to get on with my weed whacking. Once deposited on the ground, she posed long enough for a nice contrast shot (mantis green against our red clay earth), then moved easily and surely on into low ground cover.
These insects eat a lot of pests we humans generally don’t like. It might well have been time for her supper.
This afternoon’s photo shoot was special indeed. The praying mantis and I had a great time together, but beyond that, the photos themselves are quite revealing. For example, authorities on the praying mantis tend to underscore the power of those massive forearms.
Quite a few of these pics give a really good look at those.
UPDATE: April 26, 2016 Gadzooks! Our friend Marianne sent us several photos of her precious praying mantis, the late Charlie II. I intended to post those here (with her permission, of course). In fact, I thought I had posted them…but apparently not. This is, perhaps, an illustration of my wife’s conviction that she’s not the only one in this house with Alzheimer’s….
Okay. No excuses. Here (finally) are those “Marianne and Charlie” photos.