by Jill Henderson – Show Me Oz –
With the lovely fall weather moving in at last, we can once again spend most of our time outdoors without fainting from the heat or being attacked by voracious insects. While it would be nice to sit under the oak trees and relax in the slight breeze, the squirrels just won’t allow us to. Right this minute, there are thousands and thousands of ripening acorns in the oak trees and the squirrels, looking for early fall forage, have been sorting through them one by one.
When they find an acorn they like, they eat it; but when they find one that they don’t like (and apparently, there are many of these), they thoughtlessly drop it to the ground. The acorn bombs are usually launched from heights of fifty feet. If one manages to hit you on the head…well, let’s just say that it won’t go unnoticed.
Oddly enough, we have become accustomed to the annual acorn shower and usually we can avoid being knocked unconscious simply by listening – not to the squirrels, but to the projectiles themselves, which make a lot of noise as they ricochet off of limb and leaf and twig in their earthbound journey. It is this autumnal ritual that prevents us from sitting beneath the oak trees.
Another reason we are not too keen on sitting under the trees, are the walking sticks and daddy long legs that are suddenly everywhere. If we sit still long enough, one of these long-legged creatures will inevitably crawl up an arm or leg.
And while these creatures don’t frighten me at all, it isn’t exactly relaxing to be startled by tiny little legs crawling up your neck. For that reason, we have been sticking to the clearing beside the house or sitting under the protection of the covered front porch whenever we want to relax outside. Despite our precautions, we are visited by a young praying mantis that seems to have taken a particularly keen interest in Dean.
When we first spotted the bright green insect, it had just crawled up over the lip of the porch and stood, swiveling its eerily intelligent-looking head back and forth as if summing up an equation. It then proceeded to march up to Dean’s bare foot and without hesitation, to climb up his leg. Dean, undisturbed, sat comfortably talking on the phone while the mantis climbed up his bare chest, across his right cheek and onto the top of his head, where it sat enjoying the view. Several times Dean reached up and gently placed the mantis back on the ground, only to have it return immediately to his leg and make its way up onto the top of his head once again.
Some people would either kill it or run like the wind if a praying mantis crawled up their leg, but not us. We like them around to help in the garden. Besides, they are really neat creatures.
For me, the oddest thing about mantises is their ability to turn their heads 180 degrees. No matter how many times I have experienced it, a little chill goes up my spine whenever a hunting mantis turns its head to lock its piercingly-green compound eyes on my every move. The intelligence behind that cool green façade is simply the mantis’ way of locating potential prey. It’s a cool kind of creepy, but creepy non-the-less.
Some say the mantis is a beneficial bug in the garden, while others point out that mantises actually eat good bugs like bees and butterflies. The fact is that mantises will eat anything they can catch and hold onto long enough to kill, including butterflies, bees and spiders. Some very large species in the tropics are said to occasionally catch and eat small frogs and the occasional hummingbird, but not our native mantises. They will, however, eat each other anytime they get the chance, including their mates.
And while our native mantises are not big enough to hunt hummingbirds, they themselves are often killed and eaten by large spiders – another ‘good bug’ in the garden. In fact, the mantis in the picture above was eventually captured and eaten by a female yellow garden spider that had been lurking in the same patch of Autumn Joy sedum – both were trying to catch the small butterflies, bees, wasps and soldier beetles busily feeding on the nectar in the flowers.
As I watch the mantis scaling Mount Dean for the sixth or seventh time, I finally took matters into my own hands and carried the persistent insect out to the garden to eat a few more bad bugs. The life of a praying mantis is about six months and soon, this attentive female will lay her eggs in one or more protective foam cases and then die, leaving behind another generation of wondrous insects for us to admire.
Read more about Praying Mantises:
Mantis – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Praying Mantid Information – Center for Insect Science
Video – Praying Mantis life cycle
© 2014 Jill Henderson Feel free to share with a link back to the original article.
Filled to the brim with colorful stories, wild walks, botanical musings, and a just a pinch of “hillbilly” humor A personal and inspiring tale of homesteading in the Ozark backwoods by noted author, naturalist and plant organic gardener, Jill Henderson.
Jill Henderson is an artist, author, and the editor of Show Me Oz . Her books, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs, The Garden Seed Saving Guide and A Journey of Seasons can be found in the Show Me Oz Bookstore. Jill is a contributing author for Acres USA and Llewellyn’s Herbal Almanac and her work has appeared in The Permaculture Activist and The Essential Herbal.