Don't be fooled by their prayerfully folded front legs. These front legs are also preyfull – with spines and sharp hooks designed to quickly snatch their prey. Praying Mantises are carnivores and eat mostly insects, but they have been known to capture small birds and reptiles. They are also cannibals, and females have been known to eat males after mating. Talk about your femme fatale.
Mantids have two large rounded compound eyes at the sides of their head, all the better to see you with, my dear. In fact, their head actually rotates 180 degrees, so they can watch you coming and going. They have the ability to change color from brown to green, so they typically take advantage of their camouflage to lie in wait, unseen, until their prey comes within ambushing range. Then…KAPOW! They strike at a speed of 30-50 one-thousandth of a second, faster than the human eye can see.
But as ferocious as a Praying Mantis can be, they too are prey for other predators such as bats and larger birds. However, mantids do have a few defensive tricks of their own.
Did you know some species have only have one ear? It's a slit with two eardrums, located in the middle of the thorax. It detects ultrasonic wavelengths, above 20 kHz, which is the range used by bats for hunting. When the mantis senses it is about to be attacked by a bat, it dives straight towards the ground, much like a fighter pilot engages in a defensive power dive. To learn more about this defensive behavior, visit this National Geographic website.
Whoever coined the name for these creatures was a first-class punster – a praying posture, a ferocious predator or a wily prey – they all are fitting and proper descriptions of this amazing insect.
Our next Bird Hikehike is scheduled at Towsley Canyon on Saturday, January 20 from 8-10 AM. Towsley Canyon is located on the Old Road west of I-5, about 1/4 mile south of the Calgrove.
You can listen to stories like this every Friday morning at 7:10 a.m. on "The Hike Report", brought to you by your hometown radio station KHTS (AM1220) and by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.
For our complete hike and activity schedule and for trail maps, go to www.LAMountains.com.
To see what's playing on radio station KHTS, go to http://www.hometownstation.com/or tune in to AM 1220.