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?
If you've ever looked at a “Where's Waldo” pictorial book and tried to spot a cartoon-like character wearing a red-and-white striped shirt, a bobbie hat, and glasses, you know it's not that easy. Many look-alikes or red herrings populate each page.
Such is the case when you're trying to find a camouflaged green praying mantis in green vegetation.
Where's Waldo? Or, where's Walda?
Our narrow-leafed milkweed, Asclepias fascicularis, is blooming well. A lone male leafcutter bee likes to hang out there, patrolling for females. And the oleander aphids like to hang out on the stems, sucking the plant juices.
Where are the monarchs, you ask?
They are not there. But something else is.
A green praying mantis, probably a female Stagmomantis limbata, emerges amid the green stems, seed pods and leaves, and crawls toward clusters of lavender-white flowers.
Meet Walda, a master of disguise, stealth and ambush.
And she is hungry.
She's looking at you. You're looking at her. It's a standoff as she “prays” for prey.
A bee touches down on the flowers. A leafcutter circles. A Gulf Fritillary glides by.
And Walda? She isn't much of a hunter today.
Talk about a quail of a time....
When the ootheca of a praying mantis, Stagmomantis limbata, hatched April 9 on a clothespin clamped to our clothesline in our yard, all the nymphs scattered. Some crawled up a metallic quail sculpture, the highest structure on the clothesline. (See Bug Squad blog)
A bird's eye view? They scrambled about, covering the beak (beak-a-boo), the eyes and the tail (bright-eyed and bushy tailed), and the wings (were they just winging it?).
If a flock of quail is collectively known as a flock, covey or bevy, what is the collective noun for a group of mantids?
A mass of mantids? A pack of predators? A prayer meeting? Or a prey-er meeting? Brothers and sisters, we are gathered here today....let us prey.
Only a few will survive to maturity. Many have already been eaten by a brother or sister. And some will lose their head to a female suitor (sexual cannibalism).
Birds of a feather may flock together, but praying mantids do not. They keep their compound eyes on the prize, and spiked forelegs on their prey.
None would ever be nominated for Miss or Mr. Congeniality.
Saturday, April 9 was the day a clothespin sprang to life.
Some 200 praying mantis nymphs emerged from an ootheca that Mama Mantis (Stagmomantis limbata) had deposited last summer in our pollinator garden in Vacaville.
We first noticed the camouflaged ootheca (aka eggcase or ooth) on the wooden clothespin in mid-March when we were hanging a freshly laundered dog blanket on the line.
Then on that warm Saturday, with temperatures edging 80 degrees, the clothespin exploded with life. From a distance, the nymphs looked like feathery little ants flicking about.
Looking a lot like Mama, they edged out of the ooth, crawled up and down the clothesline, and then some ascended a metallic quail sculpture, the highest point.
A bird's eye view.
Praying mantis experts say that only a handful will survive to maturity. Yes, they will eat one another, along with other small insects such as fruit flies and aphids. Then they will advance to larger prey.
When Sunday dawned, they were gone.