As Bugfest fast approaches, I’ve been thinking more about mantids, those alien-like arthropods with long, graceful limbs that belong to the order Mantodea. The Praying Mantis is the most commonly-known, but there are more than 2,400 species of mantid found in temperate and tropical habitats worldwide.
One of the best parts of working at our Museum is the daily opportunity to learn about weird, exotic, or unusual animals. Mantids are an excellent example. They are named after the Greek word for “prophet.” They are sometimes confused with walking sticks or leaf bugs, but they’re more closely related to cockroaches and termites. Their forelegs are called “raptorial legs,” because they use those spiky appendages to capture and grasp prey. If there is an insect equivalent to the famed Velociraptor, the mantid has got to be it.
Mantids have earned their reputation as an apex predator. They prey on other insects mainly, but sometimes they go for the big kill: lizards, frogs, even small mammals. When a female mantid is making eggs, watch out—she is even larger and more aggressive than normal. Even cannibalism has been documented.
But mantids manage to be elegant, beautiful, even hypnotic despite their ferocity. In some African folklore, mantids could restore life to the dead. In Chinese poetry, they symbolize courage and fearlessness. Some species are almost ridiculously ornamental. Just look at these beauties:
Bugfest, for those of you who haven’t been, is a full day of insect insanity here at the Museum. We celebrate these crawly critters with informational displays, crafts, kiosks, and the succulent offerings of Café Insecta. Yes, we serve real bugs in the dishes. It’s probably the only time we get to turn the tables on these tiny biters. Come out and savor it for yourself, this Saturday, September 15.
All photos courtesy photos.com