Wednesday, September 1, 2010

In Bed With a Mantis

Our apartment in Korea had no air conditioning and the nights would get pretty warm. We could get a breeze moving through the apartment, but the air in the bedroom always remained quite still. Even with the fan running, the bedroom felt warmer than the rest of the apartment. So in an attempt to get a better night's sleep, we dragged our mattress out into the living room. We'd spent a couple of nights with our little living room 'fort' when one night, we had an unexpected visitor.
Courtney was, as usual, getting chewed on by the local mosquito population (my monkey-like hair protecting me from the worst of it). To quell the itching she rose from the bed during the night to apply some anti-itch cream. On her return, she was flattening out the the sheets in the dark when her hand ran over something unfamiliar. She picked in up, running her fingers over it in the darkness, unable to figure out what it was. It felt like a straw, but spongy to the touch. Then it moved.
Putting it down, Courtney turned on the light. This is what she saw:
A praying mantis. Courtney had a minor freak-out. It had nipped her a couple of times during the night, giving her a large welt on her forearm. I reassured her that the praying mantis is essentially harmless to us. No poisonous stinger, no venomous bite. After some research of her own, Courtney felt bad for manhandling what is a symbol of courage and fearlessness in China, a totem for stillness and contemplation and is said to visit those who need peace, quiet and stillness in their life.
Here are some quick facts about praying mantises:
  •  They've been around since the Cretaceous period (145 - 65 million years ago).
  • Despite their looks, they are more closely related to termites and cockroaches than stick insects or grasshoppers. 
  • They are exclusively predatory, using their spiked forelegs to grasp and hold prey, eating mainly insects but also anything small enough for them to catch.
  • The female is known to devour the male during mating. The reasons are unclear but Wikipedia suggests that cannibalized males enjoy a longer copulation, increasing the chance of fertilization.
For those of you that are wondering, the praying mantis that visited us survived the encounter. It was removed unceremoniously out the window in a small Tupperware container.  

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