So, how do you beat the competition? You defeat 'em and then you eat 'em.
That's what Vacaville resident Mike Castro witnessed recently.
The hot spot: A hanging pot of porcelain flowers, aka wax flowers (Hoya carnosa). When the flowers finished blooming in his garden, Castro transferred the hanging pot to his patio.
Castro soon observed a female and a male mantis "getting busy" (mating) on the hanging rope, but the male did not lose his head.
We showed Castro's images to praying mantis expert Lohitashwa "Lohit" Garikipati, a 2012 UC Davis entomology graduate who is studying for his master's degree in biology it Towson University, Md., with advisor Christopher Oufiero, with plans to obtain his doctorate.
"What he observed is really cool actually!" Garikipati wrote in an email. It's an example of female territoriality. Often times before it gets to this stage, one female (usually the more defensive individual) will attempt to display or throw bluff strikes to deter the aggressor--in this case it is likely a case of beneficial happenstance for the victor; she has less competition now and made a meal of the competitor. What often happens more typically, though, is that the more territorial individual will simply decapitate or de-arm a competitor, but will not consume the entire mantis. I've seen it a lot thanks to captive observation--mantises do seem to recognize conspecifics, or at the very least that an insect is a mantis. Some species even have species specific mating displays!
"Such examples of territoriality can be hard to observe in the wild, but this is one such example!" Garikipati noted. "And for adult females later into the year. competition is indeed stiff and everything that can help them survive and lay eggs is a benefit."
The PPB (Potted Plant Battle) brings to mind the 'ol Western movie phrase, "this town ain't big enough for both of us" which appeared in:
- The Virginian (1929): "Trampas: "This world isn't big enough for the both of us!"
- The Western Code (1932): Nick Grindell: "This town ain't big enough for the both of us and I'm going to give you 24 hours to get out. If I see you in Carabinas by this time tomorrow, it's you or me!"
- A song, "This Town Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us," written by Ron Mael and performed by American pop band Sparks, for their studio album Kimono My House (1974).
Researchers, however, attribute the first recorded usage of the phrase to Emerson Hough's 1926 novel, "The Covered Wagon." Jack McPherson, a character in his book, proclaims "There ain't room in this here wagon train fer both of us, an' one of us has got to hit the trail."
Flash back to Vacaville: one female praying mantis did "not hit the trail" when warned--and lost the fight, her head and her body.
And probably her dignity...Girls will be girls?
An enthusiastic crowd is expected at the Bohart Museum of Entomology open house from 1 to 4 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 27 in Room 1124 of Academic Surge Building, 455 Crocker Lane, University of California, Davis. It's free and family friendly. Parking is also free.
We asked praying mantis expert and entomologist Lohitashwa "Lohit" Garikipati what fascinates him about mantises. He's a UC Davis alumnus (bachelor of science degree in entomology, 2019) who's wrapping up requirements for his master's degree at Towson University, Towson, MD. Next career goal: obtain his doctorate.
During his undergraduate years at UC Davis, Garikipati displayed many of his mantises at the Bohart open houses, and answered scores of questions. He won't be attending the open house Sunday, but he'll be there in spirit!
"What's fascinating about them... hard to pick just one thing!" Garikipati wrote in an email. "If I had to choose it would be their general awareness about the environment they are in. They are always watching, always waiting, and adjust their posture, behavior, and movement based on various environmental stimuli. They engage in some of the most interesting predatory behaviors; pouncing, lunging, spearing (yes, spearing!) and sometimes throwing themselves off of perches to secure potential prey. Few flightless predators can catch prey out of the air on the wing but many specialized species are more than capable of doing so. They are the insect equivalent of cats in many ways, but with some weird adaptations!"
His studies are going well. He's describing a new species from the southwestern United States--"that paper should be out by the end of the year. hopefully!"
A native of Pleasanton, Calif., Garikipati says he's been interested in praying mantises since elementary school. “I started rearing native species in the 5th grade,” he recalled. (Read about his trip to Belize)
Mantises Related to Cockroaches. Scientists tell us that the closest relatives of mantises are cockroaches and termites, and that the mantises probably evolved from cockroach-like ancestors.
Gardeners know them as ambush predators with triangular heads, bulging eyes, and spiked forelegs.
Their diet? Basically any arthropod they can catch. We've seen them devouring monarchs, Western tiger swalowtails, skippers, honey bees, longhorned beee, syrphid flies, green bottle flies, and even a lady beetle (aka ladybug).
Late this afternoon we spotted a Stagmomantis limbata perched on a yellow zinnia in our Vacaville garden. Nearby were two crab spiders feeding on bees, one a honey bee and the other a longhorned bee.
Just you wait, the mantis seemed to say. It's just a matter of time.
Open House. "Bring a live praying mantis to show and share (and to bring back home) and have your name entered into a raffle for a Bohart t-shirt of your choice! The mantis can be a purchased pet or one you found outside," says Tabatha Yang, Bohart Museum's education and outreach coordinator.
The Bohart Museum of Entomology, founded in 1946 and directed by UC Davis distinguished professor Lynn Kimsey, houses a global collection of eight million insect specimens; a live petting zoo, including Madagascar hissing cockroaches, stick insects and tarantulas; and an insect-themed gift shop, stocked with books, posters, collecting equipment, t-shirts, hoodies, jewelry and more. More information is available on the website or emailing email@example.com).
The Bohart Museum of Entomology is hosting an open house, themed "Praying Mantises," on Sunday, Aug. 27 in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building, 455 Crocker Lane, UC Davis campus. It is free and family friendly.
When asked what's fascinating about praying mantises, Lohit Garikipati, UC Davis entomology graduate (bachelor of science degree, 2019) wrapping up his master's degree with biologist Christopher Oufiero at Towson University,Towson, MD, said:
"What's fascinating about them... hard to pick just one thing! If I had to choose it would be their general awareness about the environment they are in. They are always watching, always waiting, and adjust their posture, behavior, and movement based on various environmental stimuli. They engage in some of the most interesting predatory behaviors; pouncing, lunging, spearing (yes, spearing!) and sometimes throwing themselves off of perches to secure potential prey. Few flightless predators can catch prey out of the air on the wing but many specialized species are more than capable of doing so. They are the insect equivalent of cats in many ways, but with some weird adaptations!"
Garikipati, who participated in many Bohart Museum open houses while a student at UC Davis, won't be at the open house on Aug. 27 but he will be their spirit. He plans to obtain his doctorate in entomology.
According to Kris Anderson of Las Vegas, an alumnus of Cornell University (master's degree in entomology) and author of Praying Mantises of the United States and Canada: "There are just 28 species of Mantodea found within the United States and Canada, the 7 largest of which are invasive species from other parts of the globe."
Some myths about praying mantises, as related by Anderson in his book, available on Amazon:
Myth: "Mantises sway back and forth while crawling to imitate vegetation blowing in the wind."
Truth: "The peering movement of mantises, demonstrated by the swaying back and forth of their body while ambulating or preparing to leap/take flight, is a behavioral adaptation to gain depth perception of their surroundings and has nothing to do with mimicry. Mantises blend into their environment by remaining motionless against a substrate that they morphologically resemble—not by moving. Peering movements causes the retinal images of nearby objects to be displaced more quickly than those of more distant objects, thus allowing the mantis to gain depth perception of its environment as it navigates forward."
Myth: "Mantises grab insects and immediately bite the neck/head to quickly kill their prey."
Truth: "The spinose forelegs of praying mantises are used to hold onto and prevent their prey from escaping. Once secured in their grip, the mantis will pull the prey forward and begin to meticulously chew upon whatever body part of the prey item is closest to their mouth—be it a leg, a wing, the thorax, abdomen, or head. No specific body region is exclusively targeted and the prey is always eaten alive, bit by bit, dying a slow death."
Myth: "Female mantises cannibalize the males while mating."
Truth: "With over 2,400 species of Mantodea worldwide, only a small fraction of species regularly engage in sexual cannibalism. Most do not. Of those that engage in this practice, the occurrence is not inevitable, as males typically escape and may mate with other partners."
The Bohart Museum, founded in 1946 and directed by UC Davis distinguished professor Lynn Kimsey, houses a global collection of eight million insect specimens, plus a live insect petting zoo (Madagascar hissing cockroaches, stick insects and tarantulas), and an insect-themed gift shop, stocked with t-shirts, hoodies, books, posters, jewelry and more.
The Bohart Museum is planning two other open houses this fall:
Saturday, Sept. 23: Household Vampires
Saturday, Nov. 4: Monarchs
All open houses are free and family friendly. At each event, the focus is on a special theme, but there's also a family arts-and-crafts activity, announced Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator.
Have you ever seen a green-legged praying mantis on a green leaf?
Praying mantis expert Lohitashwa "Lohit" Garikipati, identified this species as a subadult male, Stagmomantis limbata, perched in a patch of African blue basil in our family's pollinator garden. When the temperature soared to 105 degrees, Mr. Mantis escaped the heat by slipping beneath the leaf. Mantids are not only great ambush predators but they know how to keep cool!
But the green legs?
We asked Garikipati, a UC Davis entomology graduate now studying for his master's degree with biologist Christopher Oufiero, an associate professor at Towson University, Towson, MD. While a UC Davis student, he showed mantids at the Bohart Museum of Entomology open houses.
"Your observation is interesting and it's a rather interesting phenomenon tha'ts often noticed by mantis researchers observing wild specimens," Garikipati said. "I've found numerous individuals on foliage that is more or less the same color as they are--they could easily choose to sit somewhere else, yet they choose to sit on that particular color of foliage. How much of this is color matching is hard to say--some species can alter their coloration within an instar, others take multiple molts to do so."
Through his personal observations in rearing S. limbata, Garikipati said "they only seem to be able to drastically change over multiple instars. It's possible that this individual has lived on that plant for a period of time. Even if that is the case, its absolutely incredible that they are able to color match to their surroundings--how the mechanism works I have no idea. Probably unsurprisingly, they are much more complex than we ever give them credit for."
Epilogue: As bees buzzed over and around his head, Mr. Mantis never resorted to "Green Legs and Bam!" (See YouTube video and hear the bees buzzing)
Me thinks Mr. Mantis wasn't all that hungry or maybe he was just too heat-tired to reach out and nab a bee with his spiked forelegs.
Honey bees absolutely love African blue basil. If there ever were a "bee magnet," this plant is it.
We first learned of African blue basil, (Ocimum kilimandscharicum × basilicum 'Dark Opal'), through Gordon Frankie, UC Berkeley professor and the late Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis. They co-authored the book, California Bees and Blooms: a Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists with Rollin Coville and Barbara Ertter, also affiliated with UC Berkeley.
We plant it every year in our pollinator garden. Wikipedia calls African blue basil "a cross between camphor basil and dark opal basil. "African blue basil plants are sterile, unable to produce seeds of their own, and can only be propagated by cuttings.
"All parts of the flower, leaves and stems are edible; although some might find the camphor scent too strong for use in the kitchen, the herb reportedly yields a tasty pesto with a 'rich, mellow flavor' and can be used as a seasoning in soups and salads, particularly those featuring tomato, green beans, chicken, etc.," Wikipedia tells us. "The leaves of African blue basil start out purple when young, only growing green as the given leaf grows to its full size, and even then retaining purple veins. Based on other purple basils, the color is from anthocyanins, especially cyanidin-3-(di-p-coumarylglucoside)-5-glucoside, but also other cyanidin-based and peonidin-based compounds."
A final note that Wikipedia relates: It "blooms profusely like an annual, but being sterile can never go to seed. It is also taller than many basil cultivars. These blooms are very good at attracting bees and other pollinators."
Right. "These blooms are very good at attracting bees and other pollinators."
Wikipedia forgot to mention that blooms are "very good at attracting predators," like praying mantids. They go where the bees are, and the bees are in the African blue basil.
Can you find the mantis in the image below?