Around here the name you hear when these insects are found is Praying Mantis or Preying Mantis and the scientific name is Mantodea. There are over 2, 400 species and a young man from Pittsfield, doing research out of the University of Florida has set his sights on knowing all of them. More to come on that topic.
Meanwhile this beautiful lady showed up on my friend’s picket fence. She is a good size fully mature mantis. She is dark in color because its fall and it helps her blend in, early this year she was probably bright green to blend in with the summer colors. Oh, and there is no $50 fine for killing a praying mantis. That is an urban legend. Mantis’ are not even native to Berkshire County, this lady hails from Asia.
The ‘praying’ part of the common name comes from the position she holds her front legs, as though she were praying. And the ‘preying’ part of the common name comes from the fact that she is a voracious predator and uses those legs to grab food that comes her way. She prefers crickets. Gravid crickets–those that are full of eggs. Sometimes she only eats the eggs and leaves the cricket for scavengers. (Don’t feel too bad for the cricket, since crickets themselves are known to eat other crickets when they have the opportunity.)
How do male mantis mate with females that eat almost any insect in their grasp? Very, very carefully. The idea that females take the head off the males during copulation is up for debate. Some think it is an artifact of watching mating in laboratory settings where the male cannot get away. But its is the same as it is with spiders, approach cautiously and try to escape, but in the long run the reason to mate is to pass on your genes, and the males achieve this with a head or without.
More to come on this as the students in my class observe and write about they learn. Mainly we are going to focus on pre-programmed cell death. By the end of November this mantis will be an old lady and her cells will wear out and she will die, but first she will whip up an impressive egg mass sack to pass on her genes.