Chow’s on!

A couple of posts ago I mentioned coming back with more photos that followed the rains, and will repeat the warning here: this post is not just icky insects, but icky insects doing icky things.

The mantises have been growing at a noticeable rate, even though it varies among the many I can find. The ones on the Japanese maple tree seem to be finding the most food, and in some cases, it’s not hard to tell what it was.

Chinese mantis Tenodera aridifolia sinensis showing evidence of last meal
The ‘cotton candy’ visible on the limbs of this one show that its most recent meal was a type of planthopper we’ve seen a lot of this year, the citrus flatid (Metcalfa pruinosa.) They make plant stems look a lot like the mantid’s legs here, only more so. The fluff is the residue they exude from sucking up sap, and while it doesn’t exactly serve as camouflage, being visible from about half a kilometer, it does make it difficult to distinguish the exact location of the planthopper within. But not too difficult for the mantids.

citurs flatid planthoppers Metcalfa pruinosa with residue on plant stem
Curiously, it appears that the wings of the species develop before the final, adult stage, which is rare, even if they’re almost certainly not functional as such. For everything else I’ve seen, the wings only appear when they hit the last instar, the reproductive stage.

Both of the above photos were taken at night, so the eyes of both planthoppers and mantis show the color change that occurs then – red for the planthoppers, black for the mantis. As yet, I have not determined what purpose this serves, only assuming that it improves their vision while not giving a hit to their camouflage because it’s too dark to see the contrast.

chinese mantis Tenodera aridifolia sinensis on spearmint with unidentified spiderWhen we moved from the old place last year, we left behind a veritable forest of spearmint plants, one of our few regrets in that move – spearmint is, like, the best smelling plant ever. Sure, we brought along several with us to transplant, but none of them took – or so we believed, until one patch started coming back this spring. What you see here is not that patch, however, but one of two new plants we got started that is now thriving. The mantises have previously avoided them but this smaller one has been hunting on one for the past few days, and I spotted it when it was sitting in a provocative position under a spider. Naturally, I decided to wait this one out, making me immediately aware of just how hot the sun was beating down. But in counterpoint, at least the wind hadn’t kicked up the moment I started trying to focus with a macro lens, which happens more often than not. I think they should pay a bunch of macro photographers to live under those wind turbine farms and solve all of our energy problems…

Chinese mantis Tenodera aridifolia sinensis with suddenly appearing mealI don’t think it was because of any motion of my own, but abruptly the spider switched to the underside of the leaf (it was the heat I’m sure,) and the mantis stared fixedly at it. Yes, its mouth certainly does seem to be open – you don’t really expect much of any expressions to come from arthropods, but occasionally something appears anyway, strictly by happenstance. At this point the wait, which wasn’t very long at all, seemed perfectly justified, and I watched carefully, knowing that the strike would be too fast for me to time it usefully, but perhaps I could nab the aftermath.

Chinese mantis Tenodera aridifolia sinensis at moment of spider captureWith inordinate luck, I fired off a shot just as the mantis made its move – I had no intention of capturing the crucial moment, I was just grabbing another frame. Working with natural light, the surroundings look a lot better, but the action isn’t stopped by either the shutter speed or flash duration, so there’s some motion blur – which adds to the drama. There’s even a little blur from the spider’s legs, showing that it realized its peril in a fraction of a second.

But… who won the race? Is it getting all anxiousy up in here? Should I stop now, and continue in another post to let the tension ease a bit?

Chinese mantis Tenodera aridifolia sinensis snacking on spider leg
Well, technically, they both won. Or both lost – whatever, the glass is at midpoint. The spider escaped with its life, but not intact; this is why you see so many spiders missing a leg or two (or maybe I’m the only kind of person that notices stuff like that.) The mantis ended up clutching at least two of the spider’s legs, which it then consumed philosophically. Which makes me pause for a second, realizing that we’re probably the only species that does visible displays of chagrin when we miss a goal – cursing and stomping around and flailing our hands pointlessly. Was this something that was beneficial to our survival, a signal to the other hunters that the quarry was still at large or whatever? It certainly found a home in sports, along with the various displays of strutting when points are scored. We’re weird, aren’t we?

Chinese mantis Tenodera aridifolia sinensis snacking on katydid
Another mantis was found having moved to the rose bush out front, and was finishing off what I believe to be a katydid. It was down slightly into the depths of the bush rather than right on top, so I was trying a bunch of different angles for the detail shots, and happened upon one that worked for the action at the moment.

Chinese mantis Tenodera aridifolia sinensis eating katydid disgustingly
You know that first bite of pizza, when you pull away and the cheese is still gooey and stretches out in a long string? Or maybe a candy bar with caramel. Mmmm, just makes you hungry, doesn’t it?

[I told you it was likely to be disgusting. I just didn’t tell you I was going to make it even worse than the visual aspect.]

Chinese mantis Tenodera aridifolia sinensis with moutful in its palps
I also managed another vantage, this one obviously from beneath and so getting a little color from the rose blossoms in there. I’ve said it before, but I wish I had mouthfingers. Okay, fine, the technical term is palps, which just goes to show you that scientists are too uptight sometimes, because mouthfingers is way cooler. I just know these would make eating while reading or typing so much easier.

Hey, listen: the internet is full of kittens. Someone has to branch out a bit.

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