Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2006
* Japanese name: Harabiro-kamakiri
* Scientific name: Hierodula patellifera
* Description: There are several species of praying mantids in Japan, and this is one of the smaller-sized ones. Males grow to between 45-65 mm long, with the females a bit bigger at 52-70 mm. Interestingly, it comes in two different colors -- green, and the slightly rarer brown type (pictured above) -- although both are members of the same species. All mantids have excellent vision, and they are unusual among insects in being able to turn their heads -- a useful skill for a predator that attacks with a rapid striking action. Mantids are unmistakable with their triangular heads and large eyes, their fearsomely pronged forelegs and their long blade-shaped abdomens and wings.
* Where to find them: Wide-abdomen mantids are active for a good chunk of the year, from July to November, in woodlands and parks from Honshu to Kyushu.
* Food: Other insects. A classic sit-and-wait predator, the mantid is hard to spot until it moves, when it strikes with deadly speed to impale its prey on the spines on its front legs.
* Special features: One way of knowing you have spotted a wide-abdomen mantid is if you see it curling the abdomen, flexing it away from the wings and showing the top surface. If you look closely you will see that the abdomen will also be pumping. An individual doing this means only one thing: it is a virgin female advertising for a mate. The insects go through six or seven nymphal stages (miniature versions of adults) until the final molt. About two weeks after this, females start curling their abdomens ready for sex. The pumping action facilitates the release of pheromones to attract males, who probably need a chemical lure because mating is sometimes the last thing they ever do. If a female is hungry, she may attack, decapitate, and consume the male as he approaches her to mate. By doing this she provides herself and the eggs she will lay with vital nutrients, to give her offspring the best start in life. As long as the male has got himself into the mating position, this is not too much of a problem as he doesn't need his head to copulate. Tempting though it may be, this shouldn't be read as a fable for human sexual relations.
PHOTO COURTESY OF BIO-IMAGE NET