Most of us look forward to seasonal natural events such as the first appearance of robins, the return of the San Juan Capistrano swallows, a summer’s swim, and currently, the arrival of autumn rain. For the past five years during a brief sliver of summer, praying mantises have magically shown up on the trail separating our home and the top of the hill where we park our cars. Why these 2- 3 inch long insects hang out in the open on hardpan soil is unknown, yet I walk at a snail’s pace hoping not to step on them because they blend in PERFECTLY to the sienna grass.
Mantises are mostly ambush predators, but a few ground-dwelling species are found actively pursuing their prey. They normally live for only a year. Here in the cooler Pacific Northwest climates, the adults lay eggs in autumn, then die. The eggs are protected by their hard capsules and hatch in the spring.
Imagine my horror last weekend when I came upon a dead mantis on the path, being devoured by a yellow jacket wasp. I am only lucky to see a few of the prayerful insects every year, and I was saddened to think the mantis season was over…until yesterday when I spied one along the trail and I guess what goes around comes around, for it grasped a dead yellow jacket in its mitts. If there ever was an insect that glares at you it is the mantis. With their googly, non-blinking eyes, they don’t seem to tire during a stare down.
Mantises were considered to have supernatural powers by early civilizations, including Ancient Greece, Ancient Egypt and Assyria, who revered them as Gods. Mantis powers include rotating their head 180 degrees, turning black after a fire to blend into the charred landscape, being able to detect bat sonar to protect themselves, and of course, the female mantis beheading the males after procreation!