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Shannon Bardwell: Murderous mantis


Shannon Bardwell



The praying mantis had the advantage, as his head rotates 180 degrees. His forearms were folded in prayer; he looked so delicate, so pious. His very name "mantis" means "prophet" in Greek. But if there ever was a wolf in sheep's clothing, it is the praying mantis. 


The mantis sat quietly praying on the edge of the hummingbird feeder. Thinking he was waiting for unsuspecting insects I wasn't too concerned. Even so, I thought he might be a nuisance so I eased him away. Having him rid the porch of insects was not a bad thing. 


The praying mantis is intriguing; their coloration makes them almost undetectable. And so it was that, as the hummingbirds swarmed, the mantis prayed on the edge of a feeder, or was it preyed? 


In the course of the afternoon I removed the praying mantis four times. Finally, I thumped him off the porch and down to the grass below. That day he did not return but the following day he did. Some mantises fly at night. Whether this one did or not, I do not know. If he walked it would be like crossing the Sahara for him to climb up the porch, up the rails, up more rails to the ceiling then down the curved hook to the hummingbird feeder. 


That week I had occasion to visit with Allene Swoope. We enjoy talking about birds and plants and I find her quite knowledgeable. I shared with her about this year's legions of hummingbirds and about the pesky mantis. 


"The praying mantis will kill your hummingbirds. They capture them with their spiked front legs so that the hummingbird can't get away. Then they eat them alive," she said. 


Her description sounded like those horror movies with prehistoric creatures. That little praying bug, as thin as a needle, could kill a hummingbird? Surely not.  


Back at my computer I googled "praying mantis and hummingbirds." 


Allene was right. I read several articles but couldn't bring myself to watch the YouTube videos. Apparently a lot of folks learned the hard way that the praying mantis is a carnivorous predator that can trap its prey at the speed of 1/20th of a second, so quick it would be difficult to see with the naked eye. Locked in the mantis's interlocking leg spikes, the hummingbird is helpless. 


Praying mantises, ranging from 1/2 inch to 6 inches long, have been known to kill not only hummingbirds but mice, lizards, frogs, small birds and snakes. With those two compound eyes and three simple eyes they can see a good 50 feet away. 


One article suggested removing a mantis from your hummingbird feeder carefully. If you grab the praying mantis by his scrawny little prophet-praying neck he can swivel around and penetrate a finger. The article suggested wearing gloves.  


At the Bardwell house we removed our murdering mantises with a flick of a finger and a heavy boot. 


Shannon Rule Bardwell's column appears weekly in The Dispatch. Her email address is [email protected]


Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie.


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