Friday, August 12, 2011

Lunch On a Bush

As I was walking toward my front door today, I passed by my recently-trimmed forsythia bush. My peripheral vision caught a slight movement on the rounded top and when I looked closer I saw an adolescent Praying Mantis perched there. She was busily munching on the head of a brown moth and did not notice me at first. I called to my son inside the house. "Come out here for a minute!" He came and spent a few moments trying to focus in on where I was pointing, since the mantis looked so much like a folded leaf. "Ah" he said finally. "I see it." The mantis was chewing. We could see her mandibles moving. She lifted her front leg (hand? claw? paw?) to put in another morsel when suddenly she looked up and froze. "Who are you?", she asked us, somewhat annoyed. "This is MY moth and anyway, you are not supposed to see me here." "So sorry," we said, hastening to add in a friendly tone, "go on with your lunch. We won't bother you."

Her name was Helen and she was about three inches long, with brown wings and lime green head and legs. Helen was unconvinced about our benign intentions. Giving us backward-glancing dirty looks, she clutched her moth, wiped her mouth (I think it was her mouth) and walked away on the top of the bush. "Hmmmff!'" she mumbled, her mouth still full.

Now, I love to watch spiders in their webs attached to my clothsline, butterflies on my zinnias and bees in my honeysuckle. But watching a mid-summer Praying Mantis is especially thrilling, maybe because spotting them is such a rare occurrence and because they are so large and alien-like. But unlike other bugs who seem to love flying and buzzing around humans, the mantis (what's the plural? Mantii? Mantes?)always seems annoyed and put out when noticed.

So I asked the retreating Helen. "Why don't you like us watching you, even when you know we mean you no harm?" Without stopping or looking back, she answered. "How would YOU like it if a giant bug-eyed, antennaed buzzing thing watched YOU eat your lunch?"

I thought about this. Helen was right. No one likes to be caught with their mouth full, especially when it is full of moth head, or worse, mate head. In teenage Helen's case, I have a feeling eating the moth's head was just practice.

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