Storytime 26

Chinese mantis Tenodera sinensis eating another
I had prepped this one as a potential illustration for the last composition post, but decided to use it instead for storytime – not much of a lateral shift, I know, but this one bears a little explanation. Taken a few years back at the old place, within the towering pampas grass that we had there, I spotted a very large Chinese mantis (Tenodera sinensis) deep within, partaking of a massive meal. This was about the time that the female mantids should be producing their egg sacs, and so their appetites were prodigious – and more than a little disturbing, at least from our perspective. Because that’s another female mantis of the same species, quite likely pregnant as well, that she’s eating.

Most of us would view this with distaste, but that’s because our species is cooperative and relies on social interaction – not so with mantids. When it comes down to it, another mantis in the area means two things to them: a ready, abundant source of nourishment, and competition to their own genetic heritage. I’ve said before that I suspect the newborns engage in cannibalism, though I’ve never seen it directly – their numbers drop drastically within weeks. From a natural selection standpoint, this is what worked best among the options that appeared; the ‘goal,’ if you will, is to pass along one’s genes, and even if the young are eating siblings that have the same genetic traits, as long as one reaches reproductive age, this is successful as far as genes go. But here, we have a double-whammy, ensuring adequate sustenance for the developing young as well as eliminating the number of other mantises (with the wrong genes) that will be competing for food come spring.

Nonetheless, I’m curious as to how much of the meal she was able to finish – it already looks far beyond what I would have imagined she could handle in the first place. I had initially taken it to be a grasshopper of some sort, but no – those hind legs definitely indicate another mantis. I’m sorry that I missed the altercation, really.

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