Well known for its unique body form and characteristic pose of upheld front limbs (which recalls someone at prayer), the Praying Mantis is a carnivorous insect with a fascinating lifestyle.
All mantids are extremely well camouflaged in colors which blend into their natural habitats. In many ways, the mantis is an invertebrate equivalent of the chameleon as it moves forward in a slow swaying motion, before striking out. Prey is secured in a lightning-fast maneuver, as the mantis lunges forward and seizes its victim with its extended forelegs. The mantis then immobilizes the prey with a swift bite to the head.
Due to their bold and conspicuous behaviour – which entails rearing up with folded ‘arms’ – mantids have attracted much human interest. This has led to their place in mythology and folklore throughout the world.
The Khoisan, southern Africa’s earliest inhabitants, embraced legends and myths which referred to a ‘trickster’ god, who could transform himself into animal or human, and would die and be reborn many times. The predatory mantis therefore figures prominently in San folk tales in a role similar to the ‘clever fox’ of European fables. Even today, Khoisan herd boys are still said to use mantises to ‘divine’ the whereabouts of lost sheep or goats. In Afrikaans, the mantis is referred to as "the Hottentot’s God," possessing the ability to restore life to the dead.
These charismatic little creatures have enjoyed similar attention elsewhere in the world, with Arabic and Turkish cultures once regarding the mantis as a pointer to Mecca. The French believed a praying mantis would direct a lost child home. In the United States, they were thought to blind men and kill horses. Native Americans believed they held the power of time travel and invisibility, due to their ability to remain motionless for indefinite periods.
– various internet sources
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By drp on 2005-07-12 19:03:11