Photo of the Week – September 22, 2017

The Chinese mantis (Tenodera sinensis) is an impressive creature.  Introduced to North America, it has certainly made itself at home here.  Entomologists I’ve talked to express varying levels of concern about the presence of the Chinese mantis – as well as the narrow-winged mantis (Tenodera angustipennis) and European mantis (Mantis religiosa).  Most would rather those non-native mantises not be here, but say it’s hard to find strong evidence that they are doing measurable harm to the ecosystems they’ve moved into.  If anyone knows of research that has defined the impacts of these non-native mantises I’d love to hear about it.

The Chinese mantis comes in either grayish-brown, green, or a combination of green and brown.

Regardless of impact, Chinese mantises are fascinating animals, as are our native mantises like the Carolina mantis (Stagmomantis carolina).   While I was out taking pictures last weekend, I ran across three different Chinese mantises and captured the images in this post.  I think they show some of the various attributes of these amazing (and possibly harmful) creatures.

A Chinese mantis feeds on a captured hover fly.  Lincoln Creek Prairie, Aurora, Nebraska.

Seen from underneath, the mouth of the mantis is really otherworldly.  Praying mantises can turn their head 180 degrees – a unique attribute among insects.  That ability helps them scan for both prey and predators.

“Do you mind? I’m eating here…”

This mantis was finishing off a skipper butterfly (a Sachem?) while hanging beneath the flowers of pitcher sage (Salvia azurea).

The “pupils” in the big compound eyes of mantids are actually pseudopupils, and are a trick of the light rather than an actual structure.  Look at the location of the pseudopupil in the earlier photo showing the underside of a mantis’ head…

The mantis in this photo is not looking in a different direction than in the above photo, but the angle of light hitting the eyes makes it look that way.

One additional attribute of praying mantises, especially the big ones, is that they are noticed by the general public, including kids.  I spent last Friday helping with a prairie-based field day for 5th graders, and my job was to get the students interested in invertebrates.  We used sweep nets to catch inverts, and the kids got to catch and hold grasshoppers, katydids, and spiders.  Moving kids from “Spiders are icky!” to “Ha ha – this spider tickles when it walks on my hand!” is a really important process.  If we want people to understand the value of invertebrates, they first have to see them as something other than icky.  In that regard, the absolute star of the day was a big Chinese mantis one of the kids found early in the day.  I kept it and showed it to each group of students I visited with during the day, and it never failed to get oohs and aahs from them.  Everyone got to touch it, and it was big enough that we could easily talk about it’s various body parts, how it hunts, etc.  As an ambassador for invertebrate kind, it was very effective.  An important gateway bug, if you will.

Advertisements

About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is the Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. His main role is to evaluate and capture lessons from the Conservancy’s land management and restoration work and then share those lessons with other landowners – both private and public. In addition, Chris works to raise awareness about the importance of prairies and their conservation through his writing, photography, and presentations to various groups. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press. He lives in Aurora, Nebraska with his wife Kim and their children.
This entry was posted in Prairie Insects, Prairie Photography and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Photo of the Week – September 22, 2017

  1. I love the concept of a gateway bug!

  2. Clint R. King says:

    Interesting. I never thought of the possibility of introduced mantid species being harmful to a particular ecosystem ( other than competition for native mantids or in isolated population pockets for that harbor endangered/threatened prey species.) A study would be very intriguing. Here in north Texas we have Brunner’s grass mantis (personal favorite) as well as the Carolina and several smaller species Strangely, I have yet to find a single introduced species in spite of being in the field frequently. Great article, by the way! Seems even the most squeamish of kids find praying mantises fascinating.

  3. Sharron Gough says:

    outstanding pictures! Thank you!

  4. Great photos, I wish we had mantids up our way! ( I think the fly is a Tachinid rather than a Syrphid)

  5. Tom Dupin says:

    Are the varying colors different stages of maturity?

  6. Kathy Ralston says:

    Angie,

    This is a blog I subscribe to and thought you might find this episode on Mantises interesting.

    Kathy

    On Fri, Sep 22, 2017 at 12:33 PM, The Prairie Ecologist wrote:

    > Chris Helzer posted: “The Chinese mantis (Tenodera sinensis) is an > impressive creature. Introduced to North America, it has certainly made > itself at home here. Entomologists I’ve talked to express varying levels > of concern about the presence of the Chinese mantis – as well a” >

PLEASE COMMENT ON THIS POST!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s