Mantis and Mate

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Nature Magazine, August-September 1944

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When my friend brought a praying mantis to my desk in Washington, D. C., one summer morning, it seemed a thing of passing interest; but I took the insect home with me, and it became something fascinating. For several weeks this mantis-a female of the Oriental species Paratenodera sinensis, imported to America half a century ago-shared my bachelor's apartment with me. She even lured in a mate for herself, and when she passed away she left eggs for another generation of her kind. I presume I shall never forget her, and the memory of those evenings I spent regarding her will always be exciting.

Sinensis, as I learned to call her, showed remarkable composure on the slippery top of my desk that morning as she looked out of the window at three brick walls and a patch of sky, or turned her head to watch me over her left "shoulder." Three inches long and strangely shaped, she seemed ungainly at first-a swollen abdomen like an elongated cocoon carried at the end of a monstrous thorax; a triangular head moving about under the strange prothoracic shield, out of perspective it seemed, like the turned head of an Egyptian drawing; bulging deep-green eyes; and her long extended legs, especially the heavy anterior pair then carried as awkwardly as an arm in a sling. But the delicate green-like an Antennaria leaf I saw in the woods in May-that bordered her wings was something of beauty, showing around the wings' translucent brown, a green petticoat hanging low below a brown dress. The deeper brown of the thorax and folded front legs was washed and touched with this green-a coloring that gave her a neatness offsetting her apparent ungainliness. She had iridescent underwings of deep purple, transparent in spots and lightly bordered with wine, that folded compactly like a fan carried on the arm; Underneath she was of many colors, reminding one of hillsides in late autumn, dull scarlet and wine, brown and yellow, and hints of green, the colors suffused but leaving a suggestion of two yellow streamlines.

Any suspicions of this creature's awkwardness ended abruptly with the release of a cockroach in her vicinity. Cautiously she slowly shifted her position and then unfolded those praying legs so quickly that I had no picture of them till once more they were folded, this time with her prey in them.

It was this display of fascinating usefulness that led' me to cultivate the insect, to take her with me as I went home. There she lackadaisically made her way about the floor and the furniture, occasionally casting off her apparent lethargy to snatch food. Although she moved slowly, she traveled; and my first duty on entering the apartment each evening was to spy her out in order to avoid crushing her. At some time or other I found her in nearly every part of the room.

Later, for her greater convenience, I brought in a leafy branch and placed it in the bathroom, attaching it to the top of the doorway and to the shower-curtain rod. In this bower I placed Sinensis, and there she spent the most of her life with me, exploring that branch, promenading back and forth along the rod, and living on a roomful of grasshoppers that some boys along a Virginia roadside helped me catch. This mantis seemed to have come a long way from her kind, in an apartment bathroom four floors above Washington's Connecticut Avenue.

One evening as I was shaving, with Sinensis looking on over my right shoulder, I was surprised to see a mantis shadow on the frosted window glass to my left. It seemed most remarkable that she should be casting her shadow beyond the light. I raised the sash, and on the screen outside there was another mantis-a male, trim and neat and more graceful than the female; more beautiful, too, for his thoracic shield and large front legs also had some of that delicate shade of Antennaria green.

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