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Creature Feature: Mantis Mayhem

By Dew Adams -- Eagle Staff Writer

When I say praying mantis what do you imagine? Do you think of the one from"Kung Fu Panda" or maybe that one from the "Goosebumps" books? While mantises are nowhere near as feared as spiders, I find that there are a lot of misconceptions around them. They have this mystical air to them almost. Their big eyes and constant craned posture brings to mind pictures of fighting stances. Their limbs ready to strike at any moment with massive eyes glaring at you the whole time, their whole appearance seems to say,“Yeah, mess around and find out." I find that mantises are fascinating, intelligent, and funny insects, far less intimidating than they seem at a glance. However, before reading on, a warning to our entomophobic friends: there will be photos of insects in this article.

Pretty Boy the Chinese mantis at school, begging for attention. (Photo taken by Dew Adams)

We have two kinds of mantis in our area, one invasive, one local. The invasive and the larger of the two, the Chinese mantis is known for their stunning green eyes and coloration, as well as their long slender body, clocking in at an impressive 11 cm. While they mostly munch on small insects, females have been known to indulge in larger prey items like small vertebrates, hornets, spiders, grasshoppers, katydids, small reptiles, amphibians, and even hummingbirds on rare occasions. I find this species of mantis to be very docile, choosing to spend their days standing in one spot and observing their surroundings. I also find that they enjoy being around the people they like. Pretty Boy, the green mantis you see above, enjoys sitting on my head while I read.

Stinky the Carolina mantis enjoying a snack. (Photo taken by Dew Adams)

The other kind of mantis in our area is the Carolina mantis. Unlike the Chinese mantis these fellows are smaller and shorter, being a mix of browns and greens that change based on their environment after molting. A bright green mantis is able to turn brown from just a simple environment change. They also have eyespots on their wings to scare off predators, though their personality does that by itself. I find that our native mantises are more aggressive no matter the sex, unlike the Chinese mantis which are mostly just chill. They seem like the type to get angry when their order is wrong at fast food places. I’ve only been struck by one kind of mantis and it’s these. Despite how angry they can be they really soften up as you get to know them and enjoy watching you from across the room or while they climb on tall surfaces.

Pretty Boy enjoying a mealworm in his feeding dish. (Photo taken by Dew Adams)

I find that mantises have a wide range of personalities and hobbies. With so many unique individuals it’s easy to see why they are so popular as pets. For example, Pretty Boy: I got him from a friend who found him at his house, putting him in a container and handing him over after I got off work. Right away I noticed Pretty Boy was an odd mantis. The ones I have kept in the past were very lazy, very cat-like in how they just didn’t want to be bothered. Pretty Boy however ate up attention, wildly waving around his arms whenever I opened the lid to his tank to check on him. Being very smart, the normal for his species, he knew I would cave every time and let him out. Unfortunately, sometimes this would cause problems.

Alongside Pretty Boy I kept a wide range of insects. One of those insects was an orb weaver spider named Jimmy Buffet whose tank was right next to Pretty Boy's. The two tanks were foggy with condensation so I just assumed that they couldn’t see each other; spiders have bad eyesight after all so at the very least Jimmy couldn’t see Pretty Boy. I was right for a while, but then one day I let Pretty Boy out so I could clean his tank. He was just watching me clean his tank after feeding and grooming himself, so I thought I could leave the room for a second to clean his food dish. Oh boy, how wrong I was. When I came back Pretty Boy was hanging over Jimmy's tank giving his best break dancing impression while Jimmy was having a panic attack in her tank. See, Jimmy couldn’t see Pretty Boy originally, but even with her bad eye sight it’s hard to miss the massive green thing looking down at you from the ceiling. And one of the ways orb weavers defend themselves is shaking, where they shake their webs to freak out predators. However, Pretty Boy has the IQ of a chicken sandwich so when he saw Jimmy doing this he assumed she was happy to see him. So he returned the gesture by swaying and dancing back, waving his arms around in the air which just terrified Jimmy further. I separated them but Jimmy was not having the fact she lived next to Pretty Boy. So now their tanks are on opposite sides of the table.

Stinky posing for a photo like the diva he is. (Photo taken by Dew Adams)

Now my other mantis, Stinky, is just the opposite of Pretty Boy in terms of personality. Why Stinky? Well it’s the opposite of Pretty Boy and I let my internet friends name him (a mistake). Stinky falls in line with how most mantises I've known behave, like a cat with the “You bother me on MY terms” kinda vibes. He mostly slept all day; however when he wanted attention he demanded it, but unlike Pretty Boy he wouldn’t wave his arms around. No, what he would do is stare at you. Like if he stared long enough the lid of his tank would pop off and everyone would drop everything to pay attention to him. He had major black cat vibes, just wanting to spend his days sulking in long sullen silence.

And when he did get his fill of attention he made that known, not by biting or scratching, no that would be preferred in this case. Stinky, instead, would fling himself at mach 5 into the nearest surface or jump off your hand like he was skydiving then act stunned when the floor was indeed made of floor and was hard. I tried using him in an educational demonstration at an elementary school (key word: tried.) See Stinky actually didn’t mind the kids holding him - for about 5 seconds (a new record) but I made the mistake of letting someone else handle him. While one person in the group was dealing with the very calm Pretty Boy and I dealt with the hissing roaches, they got Stinky. I have to say, despite being the size of a small child’s palm he was good at crowd control because apparently the right way to get little kids to stand in line is to fling yourself on the floor every now and then.

Pretty Boy enjoying his two favorite things, being with people and cleaning himself. (Photo taken by Dew Adams)

Just like any pet mantises are hard work. They are much smarter than other bugs so they need time outside the tank to use their brain. They can be picky about food and are sometimes unpredictable personality wise (i.e. see above paragraph about Stinky). Still, they are wonderful pets and companions. If you plan on getting a mantis friend do plenty of research beforehand. Find one that best fits your lifestyle or your wants and needs. Getting a mantis is the same as getting any other pet: they need love and care. And be prepared to have to put up with some mantis mayhem.

Stinky grooming my wrist,; he apparently didn't like the soap I used. (Photo by Dew Adams)

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