Rediscovered Stories: Monster or Messenger

by Camellia Mukherjee

The praying mantis (Mantis religiosa) has been known over decades for its fierce hunting techniques. I was first introduced to this insect, or the “monster,” as perceived by many of my friends, in fifth grade when I read “A Shocker on Shock Street” in the famous Goosebumps book series. The enormous green eyes searching for a kill, the sharp bloody beak, and the long legs rampaging through an entire city kept me up several nights. In addition, television episodes on National Geographic elevated my fear of this insect. The loud sound effects they used in the TV episodes, while capturing a slow-motion video of the mantis chewing on its prey with a tight grip were all too real until I was old enough to do my own research and discover the other side to this monster.

The praying mantis gets its name for its long front legs that are bent at an angle suggesting a “prayer-like” posture.1 It is the only insect that can turn its head at a full 180 degrees.2 This insect is also commonly studied and well known for engaging in sexual cannibalism. In Africa, the praying mantis has been considered the “oldest symbol of God” and is “associated with restoring life into the dead.” In Arabic and Turkish cultures, a mantis is known to be the messenger who points the pilgrims to Mecca. In literature, the mantis has been used to symbolize strength, courage, and fearlessness.3,4

Recently, Dr. Gavin Svenson discovered that “contrary to the common perception of mantises being slow, methodical ambush experts, the insects are active hunters that pursue their prey. Also (not all species) engage in cannibalism.”5 Instead their first instinct, when they encounter another insect, is to get away from it by moving to another branch.

In 2008, the director of Kuji Amber Museum, Kazuhisa Sasaki, found a fossil mantis, which is known to be 87-million-years old. It is the oldest fossil mantis found in Japan and one of the only seven in the world from the Cretaceous period.6

This photograph of a mantis by Mr. Garber captures the unknown, the alone, and the peaceful, rather than a notorious hunter. It inspired me to explore the lifestyle and significance of this beautiful creature that have been lost due to the over-representation of this insect as the “monster.”

 

References

1. “Praying Mantis.” National Geographic. Web. 25 Oct. 2015. http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/bugs/praying-mantis/

2. Abdelfattah, Mona and Perez, Arlene. “Praying Mantis.” Entomology, University of Texas at El Paso. Web. 25 Oct. 2007. http://museum2.utep.edu/chih/theland/animals/invertebrates/insects/mantis.htm

3. Lohmiller, George and Lohmiller, Becky. “Praying Mantids: A Wing and A Prayer.” The Old Farmer’s Almanac. Web. 25 Oct. 2015. http://www.almanac.com/content/praying-mantids-wing-and-prayer

4. “Mantis.” Wikipedia., 16 Nov. 2015. Web. 25 Oct. 2015. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mantis#In_mythology_and_religion

5. “New praying mantis species discovered.” The Guardian., 18 March 2014. Web. 10 Oct. 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/mar/18/new-praying-mantis-species-discovered

6. Ryall, Julian. “Ancient Praying Mantis Found in Amber.” National Geographic News., 25  April 2008. Web. 10 Oct. 2015. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/04/080425-amber-mantis.html



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