Mystical visitor   by Lucia Parretti
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   These pictures of a Praying Mantis (Mantide religiosa) were taken at our house in Castano Primo, North Italy, on October 10, 2006. Praying mantises, plus a few of its European cousins are quite common around here. Living on the outskirts of a small town, we each year occasionally meet a few of them.
   Praying or otherwise, mantises are actually no praying saints - they hunt and mercilessly devour other insects, often as large as themselves. In America, where they have spread from Europe through trade shipments, praying mantises have been observed even to catch hummingbirds and feed on them.
   Rather well known is the cannibalism of the species. Males, barely 3/4 the size of females, often pay for being lascivious by becoming the ladies lunch. Before or after mating doesn't matter; the only thing that makes a difference is whether missus is hungry or not. After all, she does not disdain gobbling a smaller female, either.

Shrieeeek !!!

There is a 5cm long insect on my window curtain!

Fortunately I know this one and know it will not hurt me. Though its silhouette is unmistakable, it looks too dark, illuminated as it is by an October sun filtering through the curtain.

Glimpses of green

appear when the curtain is moved a bit. The lady (given the size, it must be a female) does not seem to care. Her long front legs, now visible, are bend in the typical praying position which earned her species a reputation for mystical insights and powers (in Greek, mantis means profet).

Put in full sunlight

astride a balcony handrail, it shows all its colors. It is amazing that the insect does not appear frightened, nor does it fight back when taken into cupped hands and moved to the new location. It is either exhausted from lying eggs in an ootheca (this is the right time) or totally used to rely on its mimicry - given its shape and colors, it is nearly impossible to spot it in grass or in a tree foliage, which are its natural habitats.

It remained where I have put it for over an hour, until my husband carried it into a nearby wood. Since this is already Autumn, I wonder how long it will still live ...

Click here for an enlarged detail of this photo.

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