Photo of the Week – November 14, 2014

The praying mantis is an impressive predator, especially when it’s a Chinese mantis the length of a ball point pen.  The ones who live around here seem to have a particular affinity for sphinx moths.  I haven’t yet watched the capture take place, but I’ve seen the mantises (mantes? mantids? critters?) devouring their fuzzy prey several times, including one I photographed last year.  Almost exactly a year later, I took the following photos at the same prairie.

A Chinese mantis feeding on a sphinx moth.  Lincoln Creek Prairie; Aurora, Nebraska.
A Chinese mantis feeding on a sphinx moth. Lincoln Creek Prairie; Aurora, Nebraska.

You can see from the photo how well this mantis can hide – it is exactly the same color as the pitcher sage (Salvia azurea) plant it was hunting on, and its shape and texture blend in perfectly.  Other mantis species around the world have even more sophisticated camouflage, which almost seems unfair.

ENPO140828_D056

ENPO140828_D057

After watching the mantis for a little while, I decided to try out the video function on my camera.  I’ve been trying to do a little more video work lately anyway.  If you’ve always wanted to see watch a mantis eat up close – and who wouldn’t want to?? – here’s your chance.  The barking in the background is from the dogs in the nearby animal shelter who were apparently excited to watch a prairie ecologist take video of a praying mantis…

My favorite shot of the day was this last one.  There is sure a lot of personality in a mantis face…

"Just trying to eat here... do you mind?"
“Just trying to eat here… do you mind?”

Chinese mantises are, of course, not native to the U.S., but as far as I can tell from bug-smart friends, don’t seem to be having any major negative impacts (neither are they providing the kind of “pest control” they are often introduced to provide).  Some introduced species have certainly become major ecological disasters, but it seems the Chinese mantis is just a new predator for prairie insects to watch out for, and for prairie enthusiasts to enjoy watching.

(Now would be the appropriate time for entomologically-savvy readers to correct my ignorance on the topic of the Chinese mantis and its impacts.  Please do.)

8 thoughts on “Photo of the Week – November 14, 2014

  1. mark nupen November 14, 2014 / 9:48 am

    I swear I could almost hear the munching on your video! Your photography has been stunning. Thanks.

  2. elfinelvin November 14, 2014 / 9:57 am

    I’ve always found these critters fascinating. Great video!

  3. Sara November 14, 2014 / 10:31 am

    Love that last shot! What a lot of personality (I can imagine at least) in that look.

  4. Helen Hartman November 14, 2014 / 2:41 pm

    I read recently that the non-native praying mantises are indeed a problem. They’re capable of catching and killing hummingbirds.

  5. Ernest Ochsner November 14, 2014 / 3:40 pm

    Several years ago I watched a female very full of eggs, keep a young cat at bay in the middle of the street by Aurora’s Co-Op. I finally picked her up and moved her to the courthouse lawn. She pinched the heck out of me but I seemed to survive OK.
    I have found them to be fearless in other situations also where instead of flying off they turn , rear up and scare the bejeehsus out of ya.

  6. Tom D November 15, 2014 / 5:48 pm

    Displacement of native mantises in a world of shrinking habitat is the main issue. Nothing to be done about it now. Great photos, as always.

  7. Rob Taylor November 17, 2014 / 1:05 pm

    Any tips for identifying these mantises? Distinguishing from native species?

    • Chris Helzer November 17, 2014 / 8:55 pm

      Hi Rob. I’m pretty sure I can tell the ones in Nebraska apart, but not confident enough to share my (subjective) methods… And I’m not sure they’d translate to the potential species in the Pacific NW! The best website I’ve found is this one: http://extension.umd.edu/hgic/insects/predators-praying-mantid-mantis but again, I’m not sure whether it would work seamlessly out west.

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