Mantis

A little poem, about a bug I adore, fell into my head early this morning– or late last night.  Here it is:

There you sit, so tame on my hand

To let me study you. 

But it’s easy to see that you are not tame. 

(You are too smart to be tamed!)

Too cunning and wily a bug. 

 

While I observe you,

It’s fair to assume

You equally do the same.

 

A perfect blend of strength and precision

A camouflaged beastie and artful hunter. 

A keeper of balance

A keeper of flowers

A fearsome predator

Who devours. 

 

An omen of dread

A partner at lunch

An intricate piece of art

A prankster that imitates a buzzing cockroach

A flicker amongst the brush. 

 

While I suspect I will never know

what you think of me

I relinquish you now, back to the tree

For you are wild and free. 

 

Go now and master your domain

You perfect, little beastie. 

 

This poem didn’t manifest entirely out of nowhere, it was inspired by an encounter yesterday.  On my lunch break, I noticed a stunning praying mantis with striking markings on the sidewalk in front of the building I work at.  Of course I picked it up.  How could I leave such a creature on Ventura Blvd. to be easily trod upon?  Far too busy a place.  My coworker and I held and admired it for a few minutes then took it to a nearby park where I found a tree that the mantis seemed to have been made from.

Why do I adore mantids as I do?  Shortly after I had moved out on my own, my younger brother would come and stay with me on the weekends and over his breaks.  On one of these visits, he decided he wanted to raise a clutch of praying mantises.  The internet was  a far cry from what it is today.  We set out and stopped at a gardening store where much to my brother’s delight, there were some mantis eggs for sale.  One of the workers told us each egg would hatch 20-40 mantis nymphs.  So we set up a small terrarium and the day they hatched we were astounded by the amount of nymphs.  I’m confident that it’s safe to say there were over a hundred between the two eggs.  We scrambled to try and stop them from eating one another and released them into a nearby cluster of bramble.  To eat and be eaten but at least not be trapped.  However, my brother and I kept a few of the nymphs, to raise.  We set each nymph up in its own little bowl with some leaves, a few sticks and a place to collect water.  For the covers, we bought the cheapest pair of pantyhose we could find and cut it up then used a rubber band to secure a piece of pantyhose over the mouth of each little glass bowl.

It was an experience to watch the nymphs grow.  At first they were fed fruit flies and other small bugs, graduating up to crickets and larger insects when they became adults.  One mantis developed a tactic to catch the crickets.  It would hang upside down from the pantyhose cover and snatch the cricket right off the ground, eliminating the cricket’s greatest defense in stealing its ability to jump away.  Another would often rip the head completely off of its prey, holding the decapitated head in one claw and the body in the other.  Quite gruesome but an effective predator, none-the-less.

There were two behaviors I really enjoyed watching with our mantises and one was the way they groomed themselves, much like a cat, actually.  And the other, the way they drank water.  It was the first time I’d ever noticed such behavior in a bug.

While I didn’t happen upon too many wild mantises in Portland, I do see them often here in Los Angeles.  And as I did with the one I found yesterday, I always pick them up.  Sometimes I find them and sometimes they find me.

An omen of dread

I’ll never forget the mantis that flew into my condo one night, a couple years back.  It was a strange ghostly color, almost white and its eyes were red.  It landed on the open sliding glass door and just sat there.  I took a picture of it because I always do when I see a mantis and a camera is handy.  Then about an hour later, the building right next door, not twenty feet away, caught fire.  It was a horrific event to witness and lives were lost.

mantis-best

A partner at lunch

On a much lighter note, I fondly recall a sprightly green praying mantis nymph that joined me for lunch one day.  While I sat outside, writing and eating.  It did the same.  Well, not the writing bit but the eating bit, yes.  It even ventured across the table and walked onto my wrist.

mantis-tiny

An intricate piece of art

mantis-on-hand

The artistry of nature never ceases to astound me.  Each and every praying mantis looks different.  The one I found yesterday was one of a spectacular pattern.

A prankster that imitates a buzzing cockroach

Regrettably, this I do not have a photo of.  About six years ago, I was studying chemistry at the kitchen table.  I lived on the third floor of an apartment building and had the sliding glass door wide open.  While I was focused on creating a graph, standing over my chart, a bug flew into the apartment and proceeded to fly around my head.  Alarmed, I took to running around the small living room, convinced that it was a big, brown American cockroach (they fly, you know) buzzing my head.  My dog, then a puppy, chased me and bit at my legs while my husband– brave as he might be– grabbed a frying pan from the kitchen intending to smack this thing, flying around my head, right out of the air.  Finally the bug landed, the chaos ended, and it was then that my husband and I realized it was no cockroach, nothing of the sort, but a brown praying mantis.  Much to my relief.

I hope you enjoyed my poem, photos and stories.  If you see a short woman carrying a mantis around Los Angeles, it could very well be me 🙂  But I imagine I’m not the only one.  Mantises are too cool a bug.