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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The next time you feel you are being may be happening....but not by a human...

Why did I title this blog entry as I did? Because I just read a fascinating article about the praying mantis online.Apparently, research into the praying mantis (which is an insect for those of you who do not know), reveals that these insects actually engage in "stalking" behavior as part of their daily routine. Firstly I would like to give you some facts about this fascinating insect.

"Mantodea or mantises is an order of insects which contains approximately 2,200 species in  9 families worldwide in temperate and tropical habitats. . Most of the species are in the family Mantidae. (source: A colloquial name for the order is "praying mantises", because of the typical "prayer-like" stance, although the term is often misspelled as "preying mantis" since mantises are notoriously  predatory. The word mantis is Greek for " prophet" or  "fortune teller." The closest relatives of mantises are the orders Isopetra (termites) and Blattodea (cockroaches), and these three groups together are sometimes ranked as an order rather than a superorder. They are sometimes confused with phasmids  (stick/leaf insects) and other elongated insects such as grasshoppers and crickets. (Source:

"Mantids are  mantises, are carnivorous insects.This means in order to live they must feed on animal tissues.The largest praying mantises are the Tenodera and the Archimantis, which are six inches long!  The smallest praying mantis is the Bolbe pygmaea, which is only 2/5 of an inch, or one-centimeter. Their colors vary, ranging from light greens to pinks. Most mantids are pea green or brown. The tropical flower mantises, which resemble flowers, are usually light colors such as pink. Flower mantises, from Africa or the Far East, so closely resemble flowers that insects will often land on them to get nectar. Camouflage is very important for the praying mantis' survival. Because they have so many enemies such as birds, they must blend in with their habitat to avoid being eaten. They have a triangular-shaped head with a large compound eye on each side. Praying mantids are the only insect that turn from side to side in a full 180-degree angle. Their eyes are sensitive to the slightest movement up to 60 feet away. They have straight, leathery forewings and very powerful jaws used for devouring its prey. They have ultrasound ears on their Metathoraxes. In the bodies of some species of mantis, there is a hollow chamber. Recently it has been discovered that these hollow chambers provide the mantis with a means of detecting bats, one of their most feared predators. Apparently, the mantis in flight will drastically change its flight pattern (often hurling to the ground in a spiral) when the mantis hears certain frequencies of sound.
"(source: " The average lifespan  of a praying mantis in the wild is one year (12 months). Praying mantids’ excellent eyesight allows some to see movement up to 60 feet (18 meters) away. (source:

"The praying mantis has historically been a popular subject of mythology and folklore. In France, people believed a praying mantis would point a lost child home. In Arabic and Turkish cultures, a mantis was thought to point toward Mecca. In Africa, the mantis was thought to brink good luck to whomever it landed on and even restore life to the dead. In the U.S. they were thought to blind men and kill horses. Europeans believed they were highly worshipful to god since they always seemed to be praying.The mantis has an enormous appetite, eating up to sixteen crickets a day, but is not limited to just insects. They are carnivorous and cannibalistic, and only eat live prey in both nymph and adult stages. " (source:

The female praying mathis could be called a "sexual predator". This is because she will often eat her male partner after they engage in sexual behavior. "The female secretes a pheromone to attract and show that she is receptive to the mate. The male then approaches her with caution. The most common courtship is when the male mantis approaches the female frontally, slowing its speed down as it nears. This has also been described as a beautiful ritual dance in which the female's final pose motions that she is ready. The second most common courtship is when the male approaches the female from behind, speeding up as it nears. He then jumps on her back, they mate, and he flies away quickly. It is most seldom that courtship occurs with the male remaining passive until approached by the female. The actual mating response process has been described as an initial visual fixation on the female, followed by fluctuation of the antennae and a slow and deliberate approach. Abdominal flex displays with a flying leap on the back of the female are executed in order to mount her. The female lashes her antennae and there is rhythmic S-bending of the abdomen. During one experiment, mantids were observed in copulation for an average of six hours. The male flew away after mating."

Although the praying mantis is known for its cannibalistic mating process in actuality it only occurs 5-31% of the time. Especially in laboratory conditions of bright lights and confinement, the female is more likely to eat the male as means of survival. "In nature, mating usually takes place under cover, so rather than leaning over the tank studying their every move, we left them alone and videotaped what happened. We were amazed at what we saw. Out of thirty matings, we didn't record one instance of cannibalism, and instead we saw an elaborate courtship display, with both sexes performing a ritual dance, stroking each other with their antennae before finally mating. It really was a lovely display". There is one species, however, the Mantis religiosa, in which it is necessary that the head be removed for the mating to take effect properly.  Sexual cannibalism occurs most often if the female is hungry. (source:

Now that you have a better understanding of the life and biology of the praying mantis, I would like to return to the reason I really wrote this blog entry. Scientists who study insects have concluded after their observation of the "praying mantis", that these insects actually engage in stalking behavior during their daily lives!
 According to scientists,

"The feeding behaviour of the praying mantis typically consists of a period of visual search, a slow approach to the prey, capture by an extremely rapid grasping movement of the raptorial prothoracic legs and ingestion of the captured food." (sources:, and Mittelstaedt, H. , in
  Recent Advances in Invertebrate Physiology, 51 (University of Oregon Publications, 1957).   "The stimulus releasing the strike is visual and is maximal when the prey moves within reach of the forelegs and exhibits rapid, jerky movements of its appendages" (source:Rilling, S. , Mittelstaedt, H. , and Roeder, K. D. , Behaviour, 14, 164 (1959). The degree of responsiveness of a mantis to prey is dependent on its nutritional state (source:Holling, C. S. , Mem. Ent. Soc. Canad., 48, 1 (1966).)

 As starvation proceeds, a mantis will become aware of and stalk prey moving at greater distances from its body, will stalk more quickly and will strike at larger prey(source:Varley, G. C. , Proc. Roy. Ent. Soc., A, 14, 91 (1939).

Praying mantids capture their prey, mainly insects, by rapid movements of their specialized forelegs. Recognition of prey by the mantis is predominantly visual. (source:

So, the next time you are outside (or inside for that matter) and feel you are being stalked or watched you might also want to  look for a praying mantid as being the culprit rather than looking for  a member of the human species.

source of image of a stalking praying mantis:

Photographer: Capt. Suresh Sharma.  (A big thank you to Captain Suresh Sharma for allowing me to use his great photo of the praying mantis you see above!)

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Thoughts worth thinking about

"Our subconscious minds have no sense of humor, play no jokes and cannot tell the difference between reality and an imagined thought or image. What we continually think about eventually will manifest in our lives."-Sidney Madwed

Laws alone can not secure freedom of expression; in order that every woman and man present their views without penalty, there must be spirit of tolerance in the entire population.- Albert Einstein Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. - Leo Buscaglia

A person's true wealth is the good he or she does in the world. - Mohammed

Our task must be to free ourselves... by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty. -Albert Einstein

The best way to find yourself, is to lose yourself in the service of others. - Ghandi

The unselfish effort to bring cheer to others will be the beginning of a happier life for ourselves. - Helen Keller

Aim for success, not perfection. Never give up your right to be wrong, because then you will lose the ability to learn new things and move forward with your life. Remember that fear always lurks behind perfectionism. Confronting your fears and allowing yourself the right to be human can, paradoxically, make yourself a happier and more productive person. - Dr. David M. Burns

Life is as dear to a mute creature as it is to man. Just as one wants happiness and fears pain, just as one wants to live and not die, so do other creatures. -His Holiness The Dalai Lama

Mankind's true moral test, its fundamental test (which lies deeply buried from view), consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals. And in this respect mankind has suffered a fundamental debacle, a debacle so fundamental that all others stem from it. -

Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them. That's the essence of inhumanity. -George Bernard Shaw

Ego's trick is to make us lose sight of our interdependence. That kind of ego-thought gives us a perfect justification to look out only for ourselves. But that is far from the truth. In reality we all depend on each other and we have to help each other. The husband has to help his wife, the wife has to help the husband, the mother has to help her children, and the children are supposed to help the parents too, whether they want to or not.-Gehlek Rinpoche Source: "The Best Buddhist Writing 2005 pg. 165

The hostile attitude of conquering nature ignores the basic interdependence of all things and events---that the world beyond the skin is actually an extension of our own bodies---and will end in destroying the very environment from which we emerge and upon which our whole life depends.