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I'm a woman entering "the third chapter" and fascinated by the journey.

Friday, September 27, 2013

The order of things?

A friend was horrified to learn the other day that the praying mantis preys on hummingbirds.(And I'm not making this up, as noted in this Birdwatcher's Digest post.) Our conversation was sparked by my discovery of this large mantid hanging out on our front storm door. (You can see its size relative to a door handle in obvious need of polishing. I wanted to get a picture of it in comparison to my hand, which is about the same length as this particular insect, but decided against placing any of my body parts in close proximity to a wild carnivorous creature with a very small brain. Entomologist friends: do insects have brains?)
Her horror came from the notion of an insect killing and eating a warm-blooded creature, and I have to confess that I have been unable to watch any of the videos of successful hummingbird hunts, even though I grew up on Wild Kingdom and National Geographic specials, which often included footage of lions running down antelopes (hmm...was it always the same footage?), and have lived most of my life with carnivorous mammals in the house. There is something particularly unsettling about the idea of being devoured by a creature so different from ourselves. (Case in point: of the junky horror fiction consumed in my childhood, the only story I remember is the one that ended with a man about to be consumed by a giant land snail feeling its 5000-or-so "teeth" entering his flesh. This may have been the last such story I read as it creeped me out for weeks, given that we lived in Florida and there were lots of snails about.)

I pointed out that birds eat insects and spiders all the time, so perhaps it is only fair that birds are sometimes on the losing end of the food chain. (Yes, it turns out that our mantis is not the only invertebrate that sometimes craves an avian meal.) My friend, however, shuddered and noted that birds eating bugs was "the natural order of things." Which, of course, it is, but so is the hummingbird-eating mantis. Mother Nature doesn't seem to favor any one of her children over any of the others, even though all those diagrams in the science textbooks of my childhood showed homo sapiens as the pinnacle of evolution and the top of the food chain. Which, of course, is nonsense, as any biologist will tell us.
I'm glad that, so far, no praying mantis has gotten big enough to pose a danger to humans--but wasn't there a movie about that once?


David said...


I love how you express yourself. Great post.

Years ago, I, too, read that praying mantis sometimes catch hummingbirds. The suggestion was that while feeding at a trumpet vine (Campis radicans, I think ), the hummingbird had to go so deeply into the flower to reach the nectar that its vision was obscured as it had to insert its head and not just its bill. Having read that and knowing how aggressive trumpet vine can be, I've shied away from planting it.

Just like nothing else in nature, it is sometimes hard for me to accept the natural order of things...at the same time, when it comes to predators and prey, I always remember that the predators need to eat too. I try to practice non-interference. Still, I hope to never lose a hummingbird to a mantis (or anything else)...or at least not to witness it.

By the way, that mantis you have really is quite a monster (I'm referring to its size)..

Rebecca said...

Thanks, David. I just learned something unsettling from a great blog, Ohio Birds and Biodiversity (http://jimmccormac.blogspot.com/2013/10/good-mantis-bad-mantis.html). The truly gigantic mantids are not our natives; they are Chinese imports brought to this country as "beneficials" to prey on the "bad bugs." Yes, someone, somewhere in West Virginia, once upon a time paid money for the ancestor of the monster on our door.

David said...

I knew some mantids were natives and others not...but I don't now how to tell the difference (until they reach a monstrous size, I guess).