A cautionary tale from the insect world

Mavis carefully catalogs a new addition to her television remote control collection.

The praying mantis is a fascinating species, and offers wonderful opportunities for young students to learn about biology. It only occurred to me recently, however, that the species also offers practical, no-nonsense relationship guidance for those of us allegedly mature. Mavis may need her own cable channel.

When my elementary class studied Our Friend The Praying Mantis back in the mid-Sixties, my dad constructed an insect house in the style of Philip Johnson's famous Glass House. It was made from a 7" x 9" piece of plywood, and some nicely folded wire window screen. We experimented spray-painting the house silver and black for optimum mantid visibility. As I recall, it was a rare moment when we were the envy of the neighborhood.

Some mornings we would go out to the carport to check on the Mantis House, and find our praying mantis specimens happily coexisting. Other mornings, we would find one mantis and assorted body parts.

If a praying mantis goes to the hypothetical Cluck'n'Chuck Big K Bucket drive-in restaurant in Norfolk, Nebraska, it will know to not eat the crunchy shimp tail when it orders the jumbo deep-fried shrimp basket with the side of cole slaw, plus biscuit and honey. My grandma did not, but that is a different story. The mantis will leave the tail pieces, and the leg pieces on the waxy paper in the basket. Depicted in blown glass, this is rather impressive:

If you would like to keep mantids as pets, there are things you need to know:

After two or three weeks as adults the mantids can be mated. Both should be fed as much as they will eat for several days before the male is introduced to the female's cage. It is advisable to use a large cage for the mating and feeding them well beforehand is essential otherwise the female will eat the male. Mating may occur immediately or it may take the male a day or so to make his approach during football season. Mating may last a day or more so it is a good idea to keep the cage supplied with food so the female can eat while mating. The male should be removed as soon as mating has finished, otherwise he will start groping around for the tv remote control to resume his annoying channel surfing.

According to the Texas Cooperative Extension insect field guide:

The lore related to female mantids eating the heads from males in order for them to successfully copulate has more recently been questioned. Apparently, the original research was conducted with starved specimens. Only the most foolish Mr. Mantis would channel surf in the presence of a starved female. That is how males of the species learned to bring lovely boxes of chocolate to their special lady friends.

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