Looking back, part five

This is the last of the ‘Looking back’ posts – calm down, calm down, you knew it had to end – because I’m considering myself caught up now; these pics were taken the day before the first in the series. But now that we’ve gotten a little space and variety mixed in, we’re going back to the mantises – well, a mantis. While there are two that fit this appearance, I’m suspecting from its location that it was the same one that I photographed molting in detail.

When watering the garden one afternoon, I spotted a katydid on a tomato plant – they can be heard all over the place in the evenings, but mostly up high in the tree canopy, and I’ve only seen one other down within sight. Arrogantly interfering with the natural order of things (because we humans are unnatural and don’t belong on this planet,) I snagged it and took it around to place near the first mantis I could find. Armed with the camera, of course.

Chinese mantis Tenodera aridifolia sinensis and katydid
What followed was easily the most awkward capture I’ve seen, perhaps the most awkward ever witnessed in the history of entomology – well, okay, maybe not that bad, but it was bad. The mantis did not take long to recognize the katydid, which will go unidentified here to spare the family (and because there’s too damn many species to pin it down easily,) but the pounce was just pathetic. Honestly, how the mantis got this big is beyond me.

Chinese mantis Tenodera aridifolia sinensis and katydid
I’m not even sure how they managed to arrive at this position, which looks like some kind of bizarre exercise routine, but note the mantid’s left foreleg, down low, clutching not just the katydid’s hindleg, but also the edge of the leaf.

Chinese mantis Tenodera aridifolia sinensis and katydid
This image shows something that might be very curious – I watched this happen and I have no doubts as to the deliberate nature of the action. You can see that one of the hindlegs is now being held in the mantis’ mouth, and I can say that the mantis did this purposefully, using its mouth as an additional grip while switching its foreleg down to gain better control of the struggling katydid. There are a lot of species that won’t do this, just by nature; the legs are for gripping, the mouth is for eating. The local gray squirrels will never pick food up in a forepaw, for example, even when they will hold it there for eating – they always pick things up by mouth. But sugar gliders, a marsupial from Australia closely resembling a flying squirrel in this country, will easily pick food up in a forepaw (The Girlfriend’s Younger Sprog had them as pets for a long time, so I was able to observe them closely.) Seeing an arthropod using its mouth as a grip seems quite odd to me, though it might be typical for mantids and I’ve just never witnessed it before.

Chinese mantis Tenodera aridifolia sinensis and katydid
It was a mighty struggle, made ludicrous by the idea that katydids have two defenses: camouflage, and leaping away with those long hindlegs, both of which were effectively negated from the start. Yet the attempts by the mantis to immobilize the katydid were almost completely ineffective; here, the mantis is trying to end the struggles by beginning its meal on easily the least damaging part of the insect, the wings. You will note that it has bitten through the hindleg it had in its mouth, which lessened its control of its prey. This particular position, for some reason, puts me in mind of kittens gnawing on each other during playtime. Yes, I’m weird – we’ve established that long ago.

Chinese mantis Tenodera aridifolia sinensis and katydid
Now the other hindlimb has been detached, though the mantis maintains a fierce grip upon it still. That grip, in fact, was preventing it from moving forward and getting a better shot at the katydid, who still had four limbs left and was making the best of them, so the mantis is still playing Silly Buggers with the wings; to me, it even looked as if the outer wing sheaths were tough enough to withstand most of the mantid’s attempts to masticate them, but this may have been because it had to do both at once, since they were pinned together by the mantid’s own grip. I was embarrassed for both of us.

Chinese mantis Tenodera aridifolia sinensis and katydid
Here I switched vantage, standing above the combatants to shoot almost straight down, giving a better view of the awkwardness of the capture. The mantis looks like a harried mother with two kids pulling in opposite directions… except, one of the kids is just a detached leg clasped against a leaf, which was the only thing preventing the mantis from shifting position to do this properly. There is likely a level of instinct in there not to relinquish something recognized as part of its food, even though it was not actually controlling the primary target.

Chinese mantis Tenodera aridifolia sinensis and katydid
Finally, the mantis dropped the drumstick and the leaf to bring two limbs into the fight, and got a proper grip on the katydid – it’s been seven minutes since it first snagged that leg and leaf together, most of that spent holding a detached limb while the katydid struggled madly. But now, with perhaps a bit more useful instinct, the mantis started in on the head. Note, while we’re still here, the tattered nature of the katydid’s wings.

You would think that the struggles of the katydid would cease soon after the mantis started eating directly in the vicinity of the right eye; you’d be wrong, and I was startled at how long the damn thing kept kicking as the head was disappearing – I am sparing you those images, because they are indeed graphic. At one point, the mantis was calmly gnawing on the end of another limb while the opposite end, driven by the chewing, was bashing the katydid in the remains of its face with what I can only assume was a gruesomely taunting manner, the insect equivalent of, “Stop hitting yourself!” Yes, I agree, that was unnecessary – oh, you meant my comment? Well, okay…

I think we all understand that nature isn’t necessarily pretty, but at times it can also be ridiculously inept.

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