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The Praying Mantis and Walking Stick
Nature Bulletin No. 643-A   May 28, 1977
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
George W. Dunne, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation

THE PRAYING MANTIS AND WALKING STICK
Like the farmer who saw his first circus giraffe and whispered to his wife, "There ain't no such animal, " a stranger to certain of the odd-balls of the insect world can hardly believe his eyes. Among the weirdest of them all, seen once in a while in this region, are the Praying Mantis and the Walking Stick. Everything about them seems to be greatly exaggerated.

Both of these queer creatures belong to that great group of ancient insects called the Orthoptera (meaning the Straight-Wingers, in Greek) along with cockroaches, crickets, grasshoppers and katydids. While their numerous relatives have wings and feed on plant materials, our walking sticks have no wings at any stage and the praying mantis, just to be different, eats nothing but living insects and other small animals. Both are masters of the art of camouflage.

The praying mantis gets its name from the long spiked forelegs which are bent in an attitude of prayer as it perches motionless on a leaf or twig or flower waiting for a victim to come along. Suddenly, these forelegs lash out faster than the eye can follow, and snatch the bee, beetle or such between its lower leg and upper leg. Then, the triangular head with its two great eyes and strong cutting jaws leisurely bends down and bites out chunks like we eat corn on the cob. Afterwards the leg spines are cleaned and its face washed like a cat. On the watch for a kill, the head can be turned to look over its shoulder.

The Chinese mantis, imported to the east coast in 1896, is occasionally seen in the Chicago region as the result of egg cases brought in for the control of garden pests. About three inches long with four nearly transparent wings, the long thin upper body is tilted upward from a flattened lower body. The Carolina mantis, a smaller native species of the southern states, is found in southern Illinois.

Mantises mate in early autumn after which the bride often eats the groom for her wedding breakfast. Soon she lays clusters of several hundred eggs on trees, shrubs and grass stems. In each cluster the eggs are arranged in layers and enclosed in a foamy secretion which hardens into a brown waterproof egg case the size of a walnut. The following spring the numerous young come tumbling from the egg case and scatter -- but not before many an infant mantis has dined on his brothers and sisters. They feed ravenously, go through several molts, and are fully grown by late summer.

Walking sticks can be plentiful among the leaves of trees or in grass and yet not be seen because they mimic a twig or stem so exactly. The two local species, one in the woodlands and one in prairie areas, have bodies about four inches long and one-eighth inch wide when adult. They even have body rings that look like growth rings on a twig, In early summer they are green like the fresh new growth of plants; later they become brown as the vegetation changes color. The six long spindly legs add to the deception. Actually, the name is misleading because they do very little walking.

In autumn the female walking stick drops a few hundred shot-like eggs, one by one, and lets them fall where they may. In spring the little green young emerge and slowly clamber upward.

The praying mantis is a pious fraud.


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