Those passion flowers (Passiflora) are insect magnets.
One minute you'll see a praying mantis on a blossom. The next minute, a Gulf Fritillary, Agraulis vanillae. And the next morning, the blossom is an arthropod magnet--the beginnings of a spider web.
Passiflora is the host plant of the Gulf Fritillary, a spectacular orange butterfly with silver-spangled underwings. The Gulf Frit lays its eggs only on Passiflora.
The Gulf Frits know where the Passiflora is. Their predators know where the butterflies are.
The female mantis, Mantis religiosa (below), didn't snag the butterfly. But it did grab and munch on a few Gulf Frit caterpillars.
Ever critter eats in the garden.
Will a praying mantis eat a caterpillar?
Short answer: Yes.
For several days, we've been watching a resident praying mantis, a female Mantis religiosa, hanging out in our patch of Passiflora (passionflower), the host plant of the Gulf Fritillary butterfly, Agraulis vanillae.
We grow Passiflora to attract these spectacular orange butterflies with the silver-spangled underwings. They sip nectar, court, mate and lay their eggs. The eggs hatch into hungry caterpillars and skeletonize our plants, which make us look like "bad gardeners" but the scenario makes for a "great butterfly habitat."
This year there's no "bad-gardener" look.
The caterpillars haven't skeletonized our plants.
Then we see Mrs. Religiosa. She does not look gravid, unlike the other mantids in our garden. She is string-bean thin. Praying mantis expert and UC Davis alumnus Lohit Garikipati figures she has already deposited her egg case, or ootheca, and she'll live another month or two.
Last year the Gulf Frits graced us with so many caterpillars that they were the zucchinis of the garden. Too many, too soon. We donated dozens of the 'cats to the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis, for its open house, and to youngsters engaged in science projects.
But this year, where are all the caterpillars?
In any pollinator garden, you must expect the pollinators, predators and the prey. Lady beetles and soldier beetles gobble up the butterfly eggs, while birds, spiders and wasps prey on the caterpillars.
We've never seen a praying mantis grab a caterpillar, though. Until now.
Oh, look! A butterfly ballet ever so graceful over the head of string-bean thin Mrs. Religiosa.
She ignores them. Then she spots a caterpillar. Easy catch, right?
Yes, a praying mantis will eat a caterpillar.
A gravid praying mantis, Stagmomantis limbata, crawls out of a patch of African blue basil, and begins checking out the honey bees.
Decisions. Decisions. Dozens of them are buzzing around, gathering nectar for their colony. They are not aware she is there.
Finally, the mantis, her abdomen bulging with a future ootheca, spots a bee just above her head.
She knows the ambush move well. Soon spiked forelegs grip the bee, her dinner.
It was a good day for a praying mantis. It was not a good day for a bee.
If you're a praying mantis, it's important to start the day out right by meditating, praying, and exercising.
Close your eyes and slow your breathing. Be grateful for what you have, not what you want. But it's permissible to dream big, as in a Megachile pluto instead of a Perdita minima.
Begin with the cat-camel stretch; just call it the Apis mellifera or honey bee stretch. It's great to limber up the head, thorax and abdomen and tone your muscles. You don't want to get arthritis, do you? No, didn't think so.
No treadmlll? Try balance training. Just hang upside down on that Cosmos plant and then turn parallel as if you're on the parallel bars and then flip upright. It keeps your blood flowing and your heart pumping. Repetition is good. It's all good. Do it again!
Then try some strength building with leg squats and bicep curls with those those spiked forelegs. Make sure your coxa, trochanter, femur, tibia and tarsa are flexible. They're all in this together!
Lunges? Of course! You must strengthen, sculpt, and tone your body for overall fitness. Get your head and body in position. Leap forward as if you see a bumble bee. Push-ups are good, too, as are squats, jumping jacks, eye-rolling and antennae-twitching. Also suitable for courting.
Reach-ups for upper-body strength? Definitely. Lean on that Cosmos stem for support and stretch those spiked forelegs. That's a good way to kick-start your day and tackle all your projects.
And maybe, just maybe, you'll see breakfast coming your way before you're finished with your daily morning exercise. Your prayers will be answered.
As your mama said, "Breakfast is the most important meal of the day."
Mama also told you--remember this? "Carpe diem, seize the day!"
Heads will not roll.
The Hunger Games will not begin.
Preying does not always work.
It's Aug. 2, 2020 and a praying mantis decides to occupy a specially stunning Mexican sunflower. Specifically, it's a female Stagmomantis limbata occupying a Tithonia rotundifolia.
It's a brilliant day, the kind of day that makes you love the world and everything in it. You know those kinds of days? No? Thought not. Me, neither.
A honey bee, Apis mellifera, lands on the Orange Blossom Special—no connection to the deluxe-passenger train that Johnny Cash made famous, the train that links New York City to Miami.
Ah, but it's a brilliant day, yes, indeed.
Ms. Honey Bee begins sipping nectar to share with her colony.
Ms. Mantis has no intention of sharing anything.
Ms. Mantis: “Well, hello there, Ms. Honey Bee! You are looking quite delicious today!”
Ms. Honey Bee: “Excuse me? Oh, yes, this nectar is delicious. Try some!”
Ms. Mantis: “No, thanks, I am a carnivore.”
Ms. Honey Bee: “Well, I'm a vegetarian!”
Ms. Mantis: “Well, I can bite your head off.”
Ms. Honey Bee: “That would not be a nice thing to do. Where are your manners?”
Ms. Mantis: “Manners? Do you think I'm Ms. Manners? I'm Ms. Mantis not Ms. Manners.”
Ms. Honey Bee: “Well, just telling you that I'm a vegetarian.”
Ms. Mantis: “I eat vegetarians.”
Ms. Honey Bee: "Not today!" Abruptly, she takes flight, buzzing off faster than Johnny Cash can mimic the "choo choo" of the Orange Blossom Special.
Conclusions? There are three:
- Heads do not always roll when a flower is double-occupied by a praying mantis and a honey bee.
- The Hunger Games do not always begin.
- Preying does not always work.
(Editor's Note: No organisms were injured in the making of these photographs. The mantis wanted to, though!)