Toward the end of the summer season when the long days are growing shorter and the sultry mid day temperatures are waning, the unmistakable fragrance of females begins to permeate the air. But you'll never notice it. Unless you're a male praying mantis. They're everywhere now, males eagerly seeking to procreate with the beckoning females. How could we resist bringing some mantises indoors for observation?
Right now we are studying Zoology and have begun with invertebrates, specifically insects. There are plenty to be found in our garden. The children draw and write down their observations about each new subject in their nature journals. Then we study the creatures more in depth using library book and internet resources. This week we've been focused on Mantises and they are something else!
Just look at the spiny ridge on each front leg, ready to pierce and hold tight its prey. Did you know Mantids are strictly carnivorous?
We have four of them inside a large clear plastic bowl right now. They are playing nice with each other for the moment, but we are making sure to keep them well stocked with plenty of prey.
Mantises have a total of 5 eyes. Two large compound eyes which are clearly visible, and three very small eyes, directly in between the antennae.
Mantises eat their pray alive and struggling. And they devour things rather quickly I might add, which I suppose is good for the struggling insect. They are also particular about which body parts they will eat. The floor of the temporary habitat is littered with insect body parts: moth wings, fly wings, fly legs, june bug casings and wings, etc.
It has been truly fascinating and exciting to watch these amazing hunters. To see the way they cock their head slightly when they've noticed prey, to see the way they patiently and carefully move toward it, to see how quickly they snatch their prey into an inescapable grasp and begin immediately devouring it has been educational and delightful. The children have loved it! We have been leaving our back door open, welcoming flies into the house. With clear condiment cups in hand the kids have been trapping flies on windows, sliding paper beneath each cup and then asking the resident "expert fly releaser" (a.k.a. mom) to get the flies into the habitat without them escaping.
The following are resources we used for our study of the praying mantis:
Mrs. Warner's Fourth Grade Classroom - Praying Mantis
Praying Mantis Love - Video of Mantis Mating and Female eating the Male
Nature's Perfect Predators