File this under “Leave Well Enough Alone”

October 20, 2009

glf-mantis-27bSo there was a praying mantis on the screen outside our kitchen window this afternoon. When Pat first spotted it, the mantis appeared to be about to grab a lady bug, and we tapped on the window and expressed our disapproval. The mantis desisted and the lady bug went on its way.

I was glad, because I like both lady bugs and praying mantises. Well, I did anyway. Many people cringe at the site of a mantis, but I’ve always thought of the mantis as kind of regal, introspective — sort of a symbol of peace.

I got to wondering why it is that one sees only one praying mantis at a time. When was the last time you saw two of them together? I always tell my students that when a question like that arises in their minds, they shouldn’t let the moment pass without searching out the answer and adding to their store of knowledge.

praymantisI took my own advice and looked around the Web for the answer. I didn’t find an answer to my original question, but I learned a lot of other things, disgusting things, about these creatures. I guess I knew they were carnivores, because they get credit for keeping the insect population under control. I didn’t know that they can get as big as six inches long — not in the United States, fortunately, and that they will attack and eat almost anything. I found a video of a mantis devouring a mouse.

praying mantis 2And then … then I came to the part about cannibalism — including sexual cannibalism. Trust me, you don’t want to know.

Before I had the wisdom to stop reading, I found out that the mantis is thought to have evolved from the roach family, which now strikes me as fitting.

For a couple of generations, kids have been told by presumably well-meaning adults that it is a crime to kill a praying mantis. I found several sites, including Snopes, that claimed that there is no such state or federal law. I also found sites that claimed that the mantis is protected in Connecticut, where it is the state insect, but the Praying Mantis Page on the state’s official Web site doesn’t mention that.

You can read Connecticut’s rationale at this link:


42 Responses to “File this under “Leave Well Enough Alone””

  1. Yeah…they are disturbing creatures. Look like mini-aliens. I’m NOT a fan for most of the reasons you’ve listed above!


  2. Scikid Says:

    I agree! Both mantisies and ladybugs are really cool!
    Also, nice pictures! Where did you get them from?


  3. Stéphane Says:

    I have always been fascinated by praying mantises, even though they’re a little creepy…

  4. dawn Says:

    I live in michigan and when I was little there in my suburbian backyard on the gas meter was the mantis. I remember feeling frightened. But being the tomboy I was and to please my dad,I quickly overcame this and captured it.the next day in the same back yard I found a walking stick. This time I was smart enough or freaked out enough not to tell my dad I did study it for awhile. I can now tell you I was more freaked out by this moving stick insect,I thought every twig.on the 15 or so trees in my yard were covered with skinny camo wearing attack bugs. I told my mom my fear of both insects and she picked it up along with the mantis I captured and went across the street into the wooded area(to me it could’ve been another state()I wasn’t allowed to cross the street)and set them free @ that moment I had no bigger hero.In my eyes she saved my little 5 year old life. Until I ran across this blog I had forgotten about that sunny,summer day. Now w/my own child I know she was very brave. I really hate having to do the catch and release method with all the creepy crawlies we’re both scared of. I try to act brave but my girlish shrieks might be giving me away! 🙂

  5. Mike Says:

    now I have to look up the Walking Stick, another weird insect I remember from childhood.

  6. Kermit Says:

    I guess the sexual cannibalism thing answers your initial question, doesn’t it? Actually, I have heard that they mate for life, so I guess someone is incorrect somewhere. Of course, they didn’t say life for whom. Hmmm.

  7. Archu Says:

    Just stumbled across this blog… and I can proudly say I’ve killed one.. one praying mantis that freaked me out.

    The first time I saw one upclose, it looked so serene. After a few moments it started making these really slow Tai-Chi kinda moves and leapt at me.

    Needless to say I screeched like a banshee (In a pitch only the dogs and bats could hear) and got it with my copy of encyclopedia brittanica!

  8. Word Says:

    “then I came to the part about cannibalism — including sexual cannibalism. Trust me, you don’t want to know”

    Oh, but I do!

  9. Hammy Says:

    A better question is, why don’t you ever see a baby pigeon! lol

  10. psychologist1 Says:

    Mantis is a wonderful creature of course!!! Though ido not like different bugs and insects, i consider them to be very mysterious and I think they are not so simple as they seem to be for us.

  11. Steven Harris Says:

    MAybe they pray for salvation once the guilt of the sexual cannibalism has got to them?

  12. Rebecca Says:

    Ick. I learned about the cannibal part in school. I didn’t want to know either. Ladybugs are a nuisance here where I live, though. Particularly the non-native Asian variety.

  13. Perhaps we should change the written representation of the name of this insect from “praying mantis” to “preying mantis”.

    I remember a horror flick some years ago called “Them” about gigantic ants. Maybe a nice horror film could be made about gigantic preying mantises that eat us.

    Perhaps Steven Spielberg, who made a movie with a Tyrannosaurs rex eating people (Jurassic Park), may in time run with this idea.

    Harleigh Kyson Jr.

  14. Amira Says:

    Unfortunately I read your post in the dark hours of the early morning… shivers. I don’t like walking sticks either.

  15. Amira Says:

    Oooo and I always knew one day roaches would evolve into some type of killing machine… and now I know it’s the preying mantis… I wonder if they will bite people?

  16. Joe Says:

    There is something very sinister about them. I’d be terrified if I found one in the garden!


  17. Steven Hart Says:

    Mantis dating rites are pretty freaky. On the other hand, I think they’re the only insect that habitually preys on spiders, so that should get them some props.

    I read somewhere that the Chinese consider praying mantises an omen of good luck. On the other hand, I once saw a praying mantis on the wall of the Home News Tribune building, so maybe the Chinese need to adjust that bit of folklore.

  18. Pretty Project Says:

    Awww, I love those little buggers. Sexually frustrated or not. 🙂

  19. Sackiema Thomas Says:

    This is a very interested blog you got here…You’ve basically given me all I needed to know about the praying mantis. OMG!! i can’t beleive their form the roach family! I think I’ll by one from the pet store because I have a little mice problem at home…maybe I’ll set up traps leading the mice right into the abyss of the praying mantis! MUAH HA HA HA!!!!

  20. Minghua Nie Says:

    Hi Charles:

    I once got so fascinated with praying mantises that I keep them as pets (started from a egg case). Eventually, however, I got so disgusted by their cannibalism behavior, and was glad that they don’t live forever. I’ve working on writing a blog about it when I get more time.

  21. They do bite and while not poisonous, it does pack quite a wallop…was bitten by one as a child. Those were the days that I wasn’t scared to pick up cicadas and large insects with my bare hands. Now they all give me goosebumps. Even still, they are beautiful creatures- alien-like almost.

  22. Michael Says:

    So you do not like them because they eat meat. Hmm. Like the eagle, sparrow, dogs, cats etc. etc. etc. Seems like a poor reseason to change you option about some thing. I would understand if you woke up to one biting you arm but just the fact that they eat to survive is weird.

  23. Funny, but the after-sex cannibalism is the only thing I did know about them. (What does that say for my education?) At any rate, I still think they’re neat looking. Besides, the cannibalism is just part of the circle of life: the female devours the male so that she’ll have nourishment for the offspring. Nature is strange, but wonderful.

    • charlespaolino Says:

      Actually, there’s a little more than that to the cannibalism …. it isn’t after sex. Still, I agree, that the circle of life — and the many manifestations of it — are wonderful.

  24. Scikid Says:

    Thanks! Also, can you try to comment on my site instread of using email? THanks again!

  25. dawn Says:

    You would have to go to managing you’re sites and check off this website then you won’t get anymore notification of responses. Right? Read under the submit comment button.

  26. dawn Says:

    Hey charles & anyone who might know. I live in michigan, in a subdivision. And its 70 degrees out right now. (Awesome)so my little boy and I are out site putting away all the summer gear(toys ect)and I know its late,anyway my little dude notices a ladybug. So I look up and there’s 50 if there’s 1 all along the side of my house and back door. They weren’t there yesterday(65 out). Anyone have any ideas why or a good ole wives tale meaning?? Red and orange ones very pretty. My sons trying to wish on each one. Lol he’s very determined!

  27. limesarah Says:

    Oh, they get six inches long in this country; just not all that often 🙂 I saw the huge ones all the time when I lived in Pennsylvania.

  28. Sandra Says:

    I like them ok, until one tried to attack me on my front porch-followed me the entire length of the porch as I walked away, keeping a close eye on it all the while. When I sat down in my rocker, it launched at me-I screamed and fled in hysterics like a woman possessed. I like them, but not up-close-and-personal. 😉

  29. dawn Says:

    Thank you charles very informative.

  30. armpitofamerica Says:

    My friend in college had a female praying mantis that she kept in a glass tank. She put a male in the tank hoping they would breed. We didn’t see any mating going on, but the female attacked and ate the male. We then spent three hours watching it work to devour the poor thing. The female did eventually lay eggs though.

    They’re definitely creepy, but fascinating, animals.

  31. Pamela Says:

    I just watched a very beautiful and amazing french film called ‘microcosmos’ . Put it on your winter watch list if you haven’t seen it yet.. This is in regards to your interst in creatures such as the praying mantis..

  32. pw Says:

    I’m a fan of mantises and have one moving between two screens right now, here in west TX — pretty standard October behavior. No stick insects so far this year. No problem with mantises’ icky habits. The guy on my screen watches me, head swiveling, but pays most attention to one of my dogs — the old, black-and-white one.

  33. sittingpugs Says:

    I saw this clip on YT and instantly thought of this post: Japanese cat finds a praying mantis.

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