Monday, February 1, 2016

Ichabod: My Preying Mantis Pet

 "Friendship is made more meaningful when one recognizes the right of the other to be free over and above mutual care and respect." - AVR

 Dr Abe V Rotor
Living with Nature - School on Blog
Paaralang Bayan sa Himpapawid (People's School-on-Air) with Ms Melly C Tenorio
738 DZRB AM, 8-9 evening class Monday to Friday

Assignment: Handwritten on regular bond
1. What is the lesson of this story?
2. Outline the life cycle of the preying mantis.
3.. What other insects or their relatives which are made into pets? 
A preying mantis (Mantis religiosa L).  Actual photograph of Ichabod

A green creature surreptitiously stalked behind a leaf. It was either hiding or lurking. I could have missed this master of camouflage if it did not stare, large off-tangent eyes on the guard, 180 degrees on any plane.

That was how Ichabod, the green mantis, came into my life. I plucked him from his perch and brought him to my room. Most of the time Ike stayed on the jamb, waiting for some kind of manna - flies and mosquitoes falling from head-on collision with the glass pane. Or he would snatch other insects that blundered within his reach. Feeding on these pests spared me of annoyance.

I learned to recognize a symbiosis of two friends. I caught young hoppers for my friend. It was the green lymph which he relished most. That gave him a change in diet. I took him for rides on my palm and shoulder and helped him survey for insects which he would lunge at and devour. In the sala he frequented areas where nocturnal insects hovered. Ike was contented with this kind of life, so I thought.

One afternoon I was surprised to find my friend hanging, dry and weightless like an empty sack. He must have paid for his own goriness, I concluded. Ike is a voracious predator, devouring creatures even bigger than his size. His front legs have sharp, long spines which instantly drive fast and deep like saber or fang, and a victim would simply writhe and struggle briefly, while its head is severed by vise-strong mandibles.

I began to feel sorry for Ike. I reached for him to give my last respect to a good friend.

But Ike simply hung his old clothes. A little farther I found him a metamorphosed new creature seemingly laughing at my ignorance. Ike had entered into the final and mature stage of his life, now with full grown wings, and a powerful body, three inches long. Ignorance and curiosity led me to the library.

Mantids or mantises are related to grasshoppers, locusts, crickets and cockroaches. They are the only carnivorous species under Order Orthoptera (now Mantodea). They are called praying mantises because of their kneeling position, or preying mantises for their predatory habit. They are more popular by their latter name, although in many countries they are called mule killers, soothsayers or devil horses, which of course, are not to be taken literally.

One of the common beliefs about the mantids is that they spit into the eye causing excruciating pain or possibly blindness. This is not true. A species of walking stick, another relative has been observed to be the culprit. No, not my friend.

Indeed the mantids are ferocious when it comes to preying. And when they eat on destructive insects, farmers like them. Their devouring instinct is carried on wherever they go and whatever they do - even in lovemaking! The female devours her mate during mating or after he has wooed her. Scientists say that on the occipital portion of the head of the male lies an inhibitor, a mass of nerves called ganglion. When this is gnawed away, the sperms are discharged in no time, terminating the marital act and insuring egg fertilization. Devouring the remaining part of the body afterward is believed to be just a matter of satisfying appetite.

I knew then what would happen to Ike when he gets a mate. Days went on and he became more lonely. He had reached full “mantidhood”. So I decided to give him a bride but one that was petite and thus eliminate a dreaded fate. But Ike was indifferent, and did not show the slightest affection. Instead, he squeezed his potential bride between his raptorial forelegs until she was killed. I felt ashamed to realize that what I was doing is a violation of a treaty in friendship.

So I had to make a decision. One morning I took Ike for a ride, opened the window, drew the curtains apart, and put him there a leap away from the free world. As I gently stroked his back he gave a long meaningful look. I just smiled back and walked away.

When I returned my friend was gone. As I stared at his old clothes the morning breeze brought in a nostalgic feeling that was to remind me for life a true meaning of friendship.

A legacy born out of a brief accidental relationship of man and insect shares a lesson that friendship   is made more meaningful when one recognizes the right of the other to be free over and above mutual care and respect. ~

                                               Specimen photo of green preying Mantis (Mantis religiosa)
                                               Mantidae  with acknowledgment of source: the Internet,

*Ichabod is a fiction character in a story by Washington Irving,

author of Ichabod CraneRip Van Winkle, and The Legend of Sleepy Willow

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