Our Pet, the Praying Mantis
by Utkrishta Mulmi
Scientific name: Mantodea
Pallav sir found a praying mantis near the Pulchowk Engineering Campus. There is a jungle there and Pallav sir saw a female praying mantis. Along with different types of insects, there are snakes, birds including family of parrots, and other animals and insects there.
We learned it was a female mantis because they are big and are cannibalistic while male mantises are smaller and mostly not cannibal. Praying mantis fold their front legs like they are praying. Their life span is a year.
Of course, because it was such a fine sample, we decided to keep it as a pet. Over the next five to six months, we learned a lot. We learned about how they behave, what to feed them, how to take care of them and more about their lives.
Mantises are an order of insects that contains more than 2,400 species. Mantises are insects that can be found all around the world in forest or bushy places. They have triangular heads with 2 big and 3 small eyes. According to Amulya Pradhan, our four year old, “I really liked its green eyes and its body colour. Sometimes its eyes would turn purple.”
Well, not exactly purple, but like all mantises, they have the ability to adapt to their background and the eyes would sometimes turn dark and black and sometimes lemon green!
They have a flexible neck that can turn 180 degrees. Their elongated bodies can have or cannot have wings but all Mantises have scythe like front legs that are very large and used to catch its prey.
That evening, because our ecosystem was not ready, we put it in a cardboard box. Since it had not interacted with humans it was aggressive, only Pallav sir could hold it and it would still try and bite him. Whenever we let it out it would fly towards the windows and we were worried that it would injure itself on the hard glass surface. We kept them all windows closed.
It was time to go home. The next morning all of went running to see the praying mantis first thing to see if it was there, if it was all right. We got out our ecosystem bowl. We had Amata Hubeneri moths in there before and had successfully though surprisingly been able to convert the caterpillars into moth (read a different blog on this).
Now that all the Amata Hubeneri moths had flown away, the bowl had been empty for a couple of weeks and it was perfect to create a praying mantis ecosystem there. We filled it with leaves and twigs for it to move around in. We looked at YouTube videos and research the ecosystems of the praying mantis and tried to do the best job possible.
According to our Shila Shrestha, “We would look for leaves. We would collect avocado leaves and mango leaves in the playground. We would climb up the play system and on to the roof of the store room and pick the leaves. Since we moved to the new place in Jawalakhel, we have been collecting leaves from the plants. We changed the leaves two times a month at least or sooner so the eco-system is fresh and has good moisture.
“We would take the praying mantis out and let it play and exercise as we refreshed and cleaned its living area inside the glass bowl. We would cover the bowl with cellophane wrap and poke some holes in it so it there would be air flow. Sometimes, if the leaves dried out too fast, we would sprinkle water inside.”
Before we knew what to feed it we gave it some rice as we had seen one Chinese man feed his mantis. She did not like it and the day passed. We tried again and started getting desperate around day 3. Our mantis just would NOT eat.
Then we had to do some more research and found that they eat cockroaches live. The drains of the house in Chakupat had a lot of cockroaches. We were able to seek out and catch one and Pallav sir put it near the praying mantis and after a couple of tries, she attacked it very fast and ate it.
We were so happy. Over the months, we gave it caterpillars, cockroaches, earthworm, flies, bees and it ate all of those. When we tried giving it dead insects, sometimes, she would not feed. We learned she only ate insects that she hunted down on her own. Since she was an adult, she did not molt.
She started to get fatter and fatter and we found out that we only need to feed her 3 times a week and let her out of her bowl to jump around and get exercise. One day I broke the jar while putting its food for it. We taped it up so that it would not walk out and fly away.
She was a beautiful green with lovely green eyes. She would turn around and look at us when we went near. As the days went by we grew friendlier and less scared of the praying mantis and so did she. When we first got ger nobody would go close to her. Now we would let her crawl all over our bodies and not be scared it would bite us. She became our pet.
She would jump from one hand to another, climb up our arms and back and even go walking about in the hair. Especially Vidheha liked to let her out and take care of her and have her walking about her body. Anita also was not all that afraid. We would have classes in which we would get roaches, earthworms and let her out and practice our photography and observation skills.
We then moved to a new building where roaches, worms, and insects were few. One day, because we were having difficultly feeding her, Pallav sir brought back 13 caterpillars in a little plastic container. We put them in thinking she would eat as she got hungry.
However, it did not work that way. She over ate and had finished 5 by morning and was very very full. We were worried. She needed to work off the food so we let her out and left her to wander around in the night.
Unfortunately, it seems that she jumped from the window screen on to the floor and we found her in the morning with one front leg injured and turning black. She could not move that leg when she walked and she was again angry and would not let us near her. When Pallav sir picked her up to put her in the eco-system bowl, she tried to bite him which she had not done for many months.
We hoped that she would work off her injury but two days later, but six months since we had her, we found her dead on the floor under the cloth of that covered the table of our classroom.
We felt bad and we miss the praying mantis. But we had for six month of her year-long life so that was pretty good I think. I learned a lot from her life.