Mantis Mantra

I love to go hiking and its something I do A LOT. It was on one of my hikes up at Griffith Park that this Mantis stopped me in my tracks. Right in the middle of the sandy fire trail no doubt was a bright green Praying Mantis?! I’ve probably hiked over 500 times up at Griffith and I’ve never seen a Mantis before! The timing was lucky since any bird could have easily spotted it and had a tasty snack. I carry a plastic container, gloves and a plastic bag everywhere I go now. There is no knowing what you’ll find outdoors along a journey whether it be an animal or insect.

Super excited about what I’d just found I picked the Mantis up and placed it in my container to take home. It turned out to be a Chinese Mantis (Tenodera sinensis). They are green, non-native species and were introduced near Philadelphia, PA about 80 years ago.

Some quick facts about praying mantids..

  1. Mantids are unique among insects in their ability to turn their heads a full 180 degrees.
  2. Mantids are closely related to cockroaches and termites.
  3. Female mantids sometimes eat their mates.
  4. Mantids use specialized front legs to capture prey.
  5. Mantids are relatively young, in terms of evolutionary time.
  6. Mantids have binocular vision, but only one ear.

As soon as I got home I pinned the Mantis to dry which proved to be harder than pinning a butterfly. (If you’re wondering how to mount an insect see my previous post here.) The wings on the Mantis were delicate which made it difficult to spread them and keep in place. Despite my best effort after he dried and I took off the trace paper the left pair of wings dried slightly overlapped. Whoops!

I found a pretty old frame at a thrift store that had an unusual vignette overlaying a shallow shadow box. Perfect! You could tell from a cardboard thorax glued to the inside that it used to have a real butterfly in the frame. The butterfly was just pulverized dust stuck to the glass now, gross. I bought it anyway. When I opened up the frame to clean it there were old insect larvae inside the wooden frame, double gross! It’s really important to keep pests away from your dried insects so they don’t get destroyed like this one had been. Remember your dried specimen is organic matter and to other insects a great meal. To prevent this from happening make sure to freeze any wooden frames or organic materials for a couple days before you use them on your project.

After one week the mantis and frame were ready to work with. Insects are very delicate when dry, so handle carefully! I actually broke off a leg when I was mounting my specimen but easily glued it back on. I feel honored to have a brave Mantis beautifully preserved for years to come. I can hear the mantra of the Mantis from the wall, “no fear”.