Praying mantises winding up summer activity

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Last year the alpine was open for summer type hiking – later in the autumn season than this year.  Now, with snow depths increasing almost every day, in areas above 7000 feet, plants and small creature have gone into dormancy.  With rain and snow, different attire and equipment is needed for high country exploration.  Waterproof headgear, boots and clothing, gators, poles, and soon even snowshoes with cleats will be on the usual equipment list.  However, at lower elevations, cleansing rain is washing down the vegetation and the ground is wet and bare.   Most insects, each in its own specific wintering stage, have gone into winter dormancy.  Praying mantises are following suit.

There seems to have been more mantises around this autumn, according to the number of people who reported seeing them.  The larger females have, by now, laid their tan-coloured egg masses.  These may often be about an inch-and-a-quarter in length and a half-an-inch in diameter.  Egg masses are very light in weight, and have a rough texture similar to Styrofoam, protecting 75 or so slender eggs.  They may be found from now until spring on boards, sides of buildings and basement and cement walls.  They will hatch in late spring and early summer to a predatory life style.

I recall once, having an egg cluster hatch out.  The hatchlings were so small, miniatures of the adult stage.  These quarter-of-an-inch long miniatures very slowly walked about, like adults, exploring their new surroundings.   It was amazing how, being so small, they could have perfectly functioning leg joints and necks, enabling them to look from side-to-side.  A mantis is supposedly the only insect that can “look over its shoulder”.  At the newly hatched stage they are very vulnerable to insect eating birds and larger insects.

Carrying eggs, the female is significantly larger than the male.  Both may range in colour from light brown and greenish-brown to light green and, when mature, may reach three inches in length, with a slightly larger wingspan.  They are often considered slow movers – especially when stealthily stalking prey.  Surprisingly, to some observers, they can take up a much faster pace when attempting to escape.  And then, to make pursuit even more difficult, they can fly!   The short, often unexpected, flight will often end in a protected niche where they are hard to spot.

In the past few weeks, mantises have been spotted at various locations around the Creston Valley – even in protected spots in cupboards.  I suspect they may get into buildings unawares by “hitching” a ride on a human.  I have never heard of one biting anyone.  They might grab a toothpick in their mandibles or attempt to bite if they are being held.   Have you ever seen a female mantis that, after mating, eats the male?

Mantises here in the Kootenays, in natural conditions, don’t survive long as adults into the winter.  They may seek a sheltered spot and there die making room for a new generation when spring arrives.

It seems that forty-five years ago that few mantises were observed here or at least reported here, and that they were a rather new resident — coming, as some thought, from the Okanagan.  However, I suspect they have been around for a long time, at least since there was more habitat available through clearing of forests.  The most likely origin is from the south where “migration” or movement north would not be hampered by mountain ranges of unfavorable habitat.  Movement into the Lower Kootenay River region from the south has been the trend with other small creatures, plants and larger creatures, including wild turkeys and white-tailed deer.

It is still possible that praying mantises may be spotted before more freezing temperatures come and if the rain stops.   If not, you might be able to find an egg case or two or wait a year to see next season’s mature adults.