During late fall, I found the chrysalis of a praying mantis and, after taking a few pictures, I put the chrysalis in a safe place so the flower gardens of my wife, Mary Alice, will benefit this coming summer from these amazing insects.
Our praying mantis (Mantis religiosa) accidentally was introduced into our country in 1899 on nursery stock from southern Europe. The word mantis is a Greek word meaning a prophet or fortune teller.
The praying mantis is a predator, with a diet consisting of living insects, even each other; hence, the name also of preying mantis.
A female praying
mantis created this chrysalis on a piece
of bark. A chrysalis can contain young mantises, which develop in early spring and hatch in early summer.
OF BILL BOWER
PHOTO COURTESY OF BILL BOWER
Some praying mantises are green, as seen above.
Each praying mantis egg case will hatch between 100 to 200 tiny mantises. In order to hatch, several weeks of warm weather will be needed.
The reason for hatching at the end of June is that insects will be readily available for food. When hatching, the young crawl from between tiny flaps in the case and hang from silken threads about 2 inches below the case.
After drying out, the long-legged young disperse into the vegetation, leaving no evidence of their appearance. This takes place within an hour or two, and it's very difficult to know hatching has occurred unless the elusive and well camouflaged young are found. The egg case does not change appearance in any way.
The praying mantis is a most remarkable creature, with a striking appearance and curious habits! The praying mantis does not bite humans, damage household furnishings or spread disease. However, if handled, their spiny-like forelegs can be readily felt as a sharp pinch.
The insects most commonly are seen in late September and early October, while either resting on a plant or fluttering through the air. The common name comes from the manner in which the mantis holds up the forepart of its body, with its enormous front legs, as though in prayer.
There are 22 species of the praying mantis in North America, and I've seen both green and brown mantises. Ornithologists are not sure of the reason for the different colors. Some will say that as the mantises grow they change colors, from being transparent to light green to dark green and brown when mature. Others believe the color depends on the presence of moisture - green when wet and brown when dry. Still others say the color change is so the mantises can blend in with leaves, sticks and other plant matter.
As the young mantis grows, it will go through seven molts before the summer is over. Another source stated that after each molt, the mantis gradually changes its color from a creamy white to a light brown and then to green.
The mantis hunts for food by lying in ambush, while perched on a limb, with head erect and praying arms raised. Its two large compound eyes watch the surrounding area for an approaching meal.
The head of a praying mantis is remarkably flexible, allowing the insect to turn nearly 300 degrees. The insect relies heavily on its vision to notice even the slightest movement. Also, the mantis has sensitive antennas that respond to odors and vibrations in the air.
In the fall, mating season occurs, with the male cautiously approaching the female for fear he might end up as a meal. He usually approaches the female from behind and climbs upon her back; holds on to her with his front legs and then tips his abdomen to join hers, allowing the sperm cells to pass to the female's body.
It's possible that the female could attack the male while mating; however, if this occurs, the male does not resist but will try to finish mating before the attack.
If the male survives the mating, he will live for only a few more weeks until cold weather ends his natural life cycle.
After mating, the female will seek out nourishing food to give her strength. She then looks for a spot to lay her eggs and begins to make the egg case (ootheca) on a branch or twig. This is done by releasing a frothy material from a gland in her abdomen.
The material is whipped into a foamy mass, into which her eggs are deposited. As each egg passes through her reproductive system (ovipositor), it is united with the male sperm. After the tasks of building the egg case and laying the eggs, the female dies.
Throughout the winter months, the egg case hangs from either the branch of a shrub or tree The eggs inside are protected from the wet and cold weather by the hard outer surface of the egg case.
In early spring, the young praying mantises begin to develop inside the eggs.
I hope that I'm able to take some pictures when the young hatch out next June.
Bower retired after 34 years as a wildlife conservation officer for the state Game Commission. He has published several books about his experiences. Questions and comments may be sent to him at 153 Redington Ave., Troy PA 16947.