Posts Tagged: praying mantis
The drama unfolds slowly.
The crafty praying mantis that's perched atop a zinnia raises its spiked, grasping forelegs and silently waits for unsuspecting prey.
A sweat bee cruises by. Then a second one. Then a third.
They do not land and the praying mantis does not move.
Is it possible for an insect to be as still as a statue? It is. Praying mantids can lie in wait for hours. When their prey comes near, they lash out and grab it, holding it in their spiked forelegs while they eat it alive.
Meanwhile, this praying mantis in the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre pollinator garden on Bee Biology Road, University of California, Davis, doesn't have long to wait. A honey bee lands on the predator's perch.
A predator. A prey. A pollinator garden.
The bee crawls slowly along the blossoms and is just about to forage when it spots the predator.
In a flurry of wings and legs, almost faster than a 1/640th-of-a-second shutter speed, the praying mantis lunges. Nothing but air! The bee escapes (probably in a "shudder" speed) and buzzes away.
This meal was not to bee.
Unsuspecting honey bee lands on a zinnia occupied by a praying mantis lying in wait. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee crawls toward the center of the zinnia, unaware of the predator. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The honey bee sinks down into the zinnia and is about to forage, as the mantid lies perfectly still. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Danger! The praying mantis strikes. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A near miss! The honey bee escapes and buzzes off. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
So you want to capture an image of a praying mantis.
You have to find one first.
Sometimes it's a case of hide 'n seek--it hides, you seek.
Mantises, or mantids, are camouflaged. Many camouflaged (cryptic) insects are "sit-and-wait predators," write emeritus professors Penny Gullan and Peter Cranston of the University of California, Davis, in the fourth edition of their popular textbook, The Insects, An Outline of Entomology, published by Wiley-Blackwell.
"(Crypyic insects)...may be defensive, being directed against highly visual predators such as birds, rather than evolved to mislead invertebrate prey," they write. "Cryptic predators modeled on a feature that is of no interest to the prey (such as tree bark, lichen, a twig or even a stone) can be distinguished from those that model on a feature of some significance to prey, such as a flower that acts as an insect attractant."
But we inadvertently discovered there's at least one good way to flush out a praying mantis--water your garden. It will hurriedly emerge.
This praying mantis (below), lurking on a tomato plant, apparently didn't like the burst of water that disturbed its stakeout.
It licked the water droplets from its forelegs--legs specialized to seize prey--and then flew to a nearby tree.
Praying mantis on a watered tomato plant. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Praying mantis licks water from its forelegs, specialized to seize prey. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Praying mantis rests on a tomato vine prior to flying to a nearby tree. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
There are many reasons why honey bees don't come home at night.
One of them: a stealthy praying mantis.
If you like to photograph flowers, odds are that some day you'll see more than one insect on a blossom.
Look closely and you may see a praying mantis peering over the petals, watching a bee's every move.
It's not like a proud parent watching an offspring perform at a dance recital or lead a marching band or pitch in a Little League game. The look is fiercely intense, but for a different reason.
Such was the case yesterday at the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven on Bee Biology Road at the University of California, Davis.
A honey bee nectaring on a zinnia turned to poke its proboscis deeper into the blossom, unaware of a hidden predator silently emerging from its stakeout.
Breakfast? Lunch? Dinner? Late night snack?
Not this time. The honey bee sighted the mantid and quickly buzzed off.
Honey bee nectars a zinnia, unaware of a predator eyeing her every move. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Coming up empty, the praying mantis stares at where the bee had been. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
When I last met up with a pipevine swallowtail, it wasn't faring well.
In fact, I didn't recognize it as a pipevine swallowtail (Battus philenor), no thanks to it being in the clutches of a hungry praying mantis.
Mantids have to eat, too, but I'd prefer they express an culinary interest in pests such as spotted cucumber beetles instead of beneficial insects.
On his website, butterfly expert Art Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, calls the pipevine swallowtail "the signature riparian butterfly of our region, occurring along streams in foothill canyons and on the Central Valley floor, essentially everywhere where its only host plant, California pipevine or Dutchman's pipe, Aristolochia californica, occurs."
If you head out to the Storer Garden in the UC Davis Arboretum, you might see a pipevine swallowtail catching the breeze, stopping here and there to nectar a plant.
Maybe this time a praying mantis will catch something else.
Pipevine swallowtail visiting the Storer Garden, UC Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Praying mantis devouring a pipevine swallowtail. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
When you visit the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, the half-acre bee friendly garden planted next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, UC Davis, don't expect to see just pollinators.
There are predators there, too.
Plant a garden and the pollinators and predators will come.
We spotted this immature praying mantis perched on top of a spiked Cleveland sage blossom, aka blue sage (Salvia clevelandii), waiting for a take-out dinner.
This little camouflaged insect looked like part of the plant.
Which is the plan!
No insects were harmed in the making of this photograph. We can't vouch for what happened after we left, though.
If you want to visit the bee garden, it's open from dawn to dusk. Admission? Free.
Praying mantis on Cleveland sage (Salvia clevelandii). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)