August 21, 2012
My name is Frank, and I'm a staff writer at Gwinnett Daily Post. My wife and I recently bought our first home, a 1,400 square-foot, four-sided brick house with a half-acre backyard. This blog is about our new place.
While out in the garden a few days back, pruning dead stems off the tomato plants, I heard an odd, faint crunching noise.
Raising up, I looked around the yard, waiting for it. It stopped as abruptly as it started. Had I imagined it? There it was again. It sounded like it was coming from the cucumber vines.
Stepping carefully around the plants, I moved toward the vines, peering into the greenery, eyes squinting.
A lone praying mantis sat perched atop a big, fat cucumber leaf. He was munching on a bumblebee. Had it held tight in the little fists of both hands, like corn on the cob.
The bee was still buzzing while being eaten alive.
As I inched closer, aiming my iPhone at the mantis, he turned to look right at the camera and sort of struck a pose. A narcissistic arthropod!
As he smirked, I moved the camera a little closer. With a tilt of its alien head, the nearly-six inch Mantis raised the bumblebee skyward, almost like he was offering me some.
Declining, I backed away, never taking my eyes off him. The last thing I wanted was that thing latched onto my face, me running circles around the backyard screaming bloody murder. These guys, after all, are serious predators of the insect world.
According to the National Geographic Society, the mantis will use its front legs to snag food "with reflexes so quick that they are difficult to see with the naked eye. Their legs are equipped with spikes for snaring prey and pinning it in place."
Also: They can spit at you, right? And the female will bite the head off the male while mating?
According to theprayingmantis.org, a website for those fascinated by the insect, the female often will indeed engage in "post-sexual cannibalism"
As far as the spitting goes…I couldn't find anybody willing to back that one up. But who knows. I wasn't going to take any chances.
I left Mantis to finish its buzzing, black-and-yellow breakfast. the next morning I came back out to grab some cucumbers off the vine, and there he was, still perched on the plant.
It seemed to me that he favored being near the beautiful yellow flowers, and I was about to see why. As I stood there, swatting mosquitos, I watched as a bumblebee came zipping past me.
It landed on a flower and crawled inside, collecting nectar. With a slow, but steady precision, Mantis ascended the vine. Hovering above the bee, he raised those massive meathooks and dove at the flower.
This particular bumblebee, however, must have observed the fate of its predecessor. It zipped away a millisecond before Mantis descended.
And that's a good thing, because bees are good for the garden. Their penchant for pollination can bolster productivity on the plot. So I didn't want them all to suffer death at the hands of this Mantis.
Apparently though, it's good to have a praying mantis around the veggies too. According to a study by Ohio State University, the insects' voracious appetites can be leveraged. Especially during the nymph stage, the praying mantis will eat just about any other insect (including those detrimental to your garden, like aphids).
Some folks will even buy mantis egg cases and place them in their gardens, in effect, inviting the baby mantises over for dinner.
I'll go ahead and count myself lucky for the vain, camera-friendly insect who chose to lurk in my backyard, slow-walking his way along the cucumber vines. Best of luck to you, Mantis. May your brood consume a million tiny garden pests.