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The Mantis - A Very Special Insect
If ever you should find a praying mantis in your garden, stop and have a good look at it, because it's one of the most entertaining insects in the world.
We found one in our orange-tree the other day, and it was rather a wonder that we did find it, because it was exactly the same color as the leaves, and standing perfectly still, and if you looked away for a minute it was difficult to find again. Then, as we watched, it did all kinds of funny things. First, it changed leaves, swaying and balancing on its four back legs while stretching forward and "pawing" at the air with its two front ones, very prettily, like a dog begging. Then it drew one of its back legs forward and ran its tiny mouth up and down, cleaning it. Next, it rubbed one of its front legs over its face and right round the back of its head, just like a cat washing its face.
When this was over, suddenly it swiveled its head around and stared at us.
Tess said, "Oh, look, Mommy, what a darling!"
Chris said, "That's funny! I don't remember any other insect doing that."
And he was right. That's one of the queerest things about the whole family of mantids. They can twist their heads around the way we do- and no other insect can.
Tess was also right, about its looking a darling, with its funny little head shaped like a triangle, and its big bulging eyes, and endless antics. But if she had been a fly, she wouldn't have been so pleased, because the mantis would probably have eaten her. You see those fierce-looking front legs with all their spines?
Those are to catch flies and other small insects with, and to hold them tightly while the mantis eats them. But lady mantids don't stop at other kinds of insects. They quite often eat their own husbands, as well.
The one on our orange-tree was rather small-about two inches long-but there are other kinds much bigger, and sometimes they are brown instead of green.
You'll be delighted if you ever find one of the little cases in which mother mantis lays her eggs. It's very delicate-looking brown or pale green-and so pretty. But even prettier are the baby mantids themselves when they are first "born".
Each of them has to struggle out of a tight skin sheath before it can take its first look at the world-and then, you can't help loving this tiny creature which looks and behaves so exactly the same as the big grown-ups.
Do you know why it is called a praying mantis? Just watch it and see how often it folds its front legs up against itself in an attitude of prayer! Of course, considering the way it hunts and eats insects, it should be called preying mantis, shouldn't it? But we shouldn't think of it too unkindly for this, since it relieves us of so many flies and other insect pests. Actually, a praying mantis is as useful to us as it is entertaining.