Saturday, May 19, 2012

The amazing praying mantis

Last Sunday I was photographing a dragonfly resting on top of a dry plant when out of the corner of my eye I saw a brown praying mantis. 

Praying mantises are amazing insects. They are long and as thin as a stick with a pair of large eyes on the sides of a flexible head. The head can swivel in many directions which allow the mantis to scan its surroundings for predators and prey. The most unusual feature of these insect is that the front legs have been modified into very effective hunting instruments.

The praying mantis is known in Maltese as debba tax-xitan , devil’s mare in English. Mantis is derived from the Greek word for prophet. Three species of praying mantises are found in the Maltese islands. 

This is a very small number when compared to the approximately 2,200 species found in the world. Some of the larger species are capable of catching larger animals including lizards, frogs, fish rodents and even birds.

Most species are diurnal, that is, they are active during the day, but the males of some species fly at night to visit females which they detect by means of pheromones. 

By flying at night they can avoid day-flying predatory birds and to avoid bats some have organs capable of detecting the echolocation sounds of bat which allows them to take evasive action when bats are hunting in the vicinity. 

After all the effort and risks incurred to find a female, most male praying mantises make the ultimate sacrifice by allowing the female with which they had just copulated to eat them and so providing her with nutrients to produce the eggs. 

This article was published in The Times on 5.10.11

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