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Nature Life: Praying Mantis, Nature’s Perfect Predators

By Obiabin Onukwugha

Mantises are insects in the order Mantodea with over 2,400 species. Mantises also known as mantids, are distributed worldwide in temperate and tropical habitats. They have triangular heads with bulging eyes supported on flexible necks.

The praying mantis grows up to 6 inches in size, depending on the species and age.

Their elongated bodies may or may not have wings, but all Mantodea have forelegs that are greatly enlarged and adapted for catching and gripping prey. Their upright posture, while remaining stationary with forearms folded, has led to the common name praying mantis.

Mantises are mostly ambush predators, but a few ground-dwelling species are found actively pursuing their prey and normally live for about a year.

The adults lay eggs during cool weather seasons and die thereafter. The eggs are protected by their hard capsules and hatch in the spring. Females sometimes practice sexual cannibalism, eating their mates after copulation.

These magnificent insects help farmers and gardeners by eating moths, mosquitoes, roaches, flies and aphids, as well as small rodents in their fields and gardens, thereby reducing the need for pesticides that contribute to loss of vegetation.

Researchers say praying mantises are the only predators known to feed on moths at night, which earned them the name ‘nature’s perfect predators’.

They hunt by either waiting quietly for approaching prey or by actually stalking the hapless creature. With the ability to rotate its head almost 300 degrees and its mastery of camouflage, it is a most skilled hunter. It also uses its camouflage to protect itself from predators.

However, they do not harm or bite people, although their legs have tiny spikes that may feel sharp if held.

Praying Mantises may also be purchased commercially. If you are purchasing the eggs through a commercial breeder, be sure to have plenty of insects available for the nymphs to eat or else they will resort to cannibalism.

Igbos call it “Okongono”, Yoruba call it “Dakodako”, but are not known to harm or bite people, although their legs have tiny spikes that may feel sharp if held.

Some gardeners domesticate praying mantises due to their usefulness but the disadvantage of breeding them is that they become cannibalistic if plenty of insects are not available for the nymphs to eat.

Despite its beauty the praying mantis was once a victim of deceit, which is the reason why it shakes.

It was said that long time ago, “Oyankopon” (a god) had a large farm full of yams. Everybody talked about the farm in all the lands in the world. It was the most beautiful and largest of all the farm in the world as at that time and everybody admired it.

As harvest time was approaching, “Oyankopon” announced to the inhabitants of the world the harvest day. Upon hearing this, men and women from all the cardinals of the world were full of joy. A single day did not pass without mentioning and admiring the beautiful and largeness of the farm.

However, there was somebody who was jealous of “Oyankopon” and wanted to spoil his fortune. He was no other than “Anansi”, the spider. He was so jealous that he decided to steal the yams.

Every evening, “Anansi” went to uproot a large quantity of yams and send them to his own farm. Nobody detected his evil act, not even his wife and children.

One day “Oyankopon” decided to visit the farm for the last time before the great harvest but to his surprise, he saw that nearly all the yams have been uprooted. The god ordered his men to search for the thief and bring him dead or alive.

After months of search without success “Oyankopon” decided to set traps on the farm. “Anansi” didn’t know of the new development untill he was caught by one of the traps one evening while trying to steal more yams.

After spending three days without no one coming to his rescue he thought of the consequences when people will eventually find him trapped on the farm. As the day began to be clearer and “Anansi” lost all hope, suddenly, he saw someone coming right before him. Who could this be? He wiped off his tears to see the person properly. Who did he see? A friend, the Praying Mantis.

So “Anansi” signalled to him. When the praying mantis was within earshot, “Anansi” shouted, “Oh, is it you who is coming to replace me?” “To replace you? How?” queried the praying mantis in astonishment.

So, you are not the one? But when is my replacement coming? My God, why do they leave me here to suffer like this, said “Anansi”

The Praying Mantis who is not also aware of the traps asked, “What is this all about?”

“What? Are you telling me you don’t know we were keeping watch for “Oyankopon”? Are you not aware of the thief stealing his yams? It has been three days now since I have been keeping watch for his dangerous thief, “Anansi” said.

“Oh, good, I don’t know anything about this,” replied the Praying mantis.
“It doesn’t matter, my dear friend. Come here, please come and help me. I’m very hungry and thirsty, three days without food,” “Anansi” said.

“What could I do for you, “Anansi”? You must be suffering a lot. What do you need, replied the praying mantis.

“I will be very grateful If you can help in replacing me while I quickly go down to the village and find something to eat,” said “Anansi”.

The Praying Mantis replied, “I will do that for you, but please, don’t keep long.”
“Count on me, come and put your leg here,” said the cunning “Anansi”.
“What, is this not a trap? It looks like a trap,” the praying mantis questioned.

But “Anansi” answered and said “A trap? What an idea. You don’t trust me or are you taking me to be fool? After some engagement, the praying mantis finally decided to help “Anansi” remove his leg from the trap putting his own legs in its place.

However, as soon as “Anansi” was freed, he ran quickly to the village shouting at the top of his voice, “I have seen him, I have seen him. I’ve seen the thief who has been stealing the yams of “Oyankopon”. I’ve seen him at last. He is there at “Oyankopon’s” farm, trapped.”

Immediately, a large crowd soon gathered. There were curses and threats everywhere. Everyone wanted to vent his anger on the one who had caused much suspicion among them.

“There he is, the thief,” he said pointing at the praying mantis. The praying mantis had wanted to escape but was in vain. The villagers rushed on him beating him brutally until he became unconscious.

When they thought that he was dead, they left him on the farm. But the praying mantis did not die. He regained consciousness. But, when he got up his whole body was shaking and he couldn’t see well again. He felt dizziness and till this day, the praying mantis still feels dizzy whenever he walks and that is why he is always shaking.

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