Did you know that I have hundreds of friends living in my backyard? They are green and brown, and I can hold them in my hand. They also have wings, six legs, and two long antennae sticking out of their triangular heads. Do they sound like they come from another planet? If you look at one closely, you might think so. But they don’t. They are actually a very common insect that lives in Arizona where I do. Perhaps you have heard of them—the praying mantis.
One of my friends is very special, and I call him Cheep. My younger brother, Craig, has a special friend too. He calls him Cheepest. Both of our praying mantis friends like to play with us and crawl on our hands and arms. One day when I was holding Cheep he jumped onto my face. That really tickled! I wanted to take him off, but my Dad said, “Wait!” He wanted to take a picture of him.
It was very hard to hold still with Cheep on my face. I blinked hard and shut my eyes tight. “Hurry up, Dad!” I shouted. But Dad seemed to be enjoying watching me and wanted to get more pictures. “Hold still, Keith,” he cautioned. “Just a couple more minutes.”
By now I was starting to sweat a lot. Finally Cheep crawled over my forehead and did a Tarzan swing from one lock of my hair to another. He’s a real strange guy.
You probably wonder where all of our praying mantises come from. Well, in the fall the large ones lay lots of eggs on our trees and the walls of our house. Then in the spring when they first feel the warm rays of the sun, they begin to hatch. Every day we check to see if they’ve started hatching, so we can watch them and take pictures of them. This is really fun! First one will come out of the egg case and then another. They stretch and squirm to get out, and then they rest in the sun until they feel brave. Sometimes fifteen or twenty of them will be resting by an egg case when we find them. When they see us, they run away.
Once when Grandma and Grandpa Wakefield were visiting us from Minnesota, we watched some eggs that were hatching on the wall of our house. Right beside the egg case a spider had built a nest; and whenever a small mantis came out, the spider would dash over and bite him, spin him up in a web like a mummy, and pull him over to his nest. I wanted to squash that spider, but Grandpa said that spiders need to live too.
The little mantises that aren’t eaten by spiders run off to live in our flower beds and garden. There they sit very quietly until an even smaller insect comes by that they can catch and eat. As they get bigger, their appetites get bigger too, and they crawl out of their old skins and grow new ones. When they are full grown they are two or three inches long. Once we saw one of these big ones catch a stinkbug on some vines near our house. And another time we saw one catch a honeybee that was eating an old pear that had fallen off our pear tree. It was kind of scary.
In the fall, after they have laid their eggs, the big mantises die. That’s what my dad said he read in a book, anyway. But one time we found some that had lived over the whole winter in the vines by our house. I think that they must have hibernated.
We always try to be nice to our praying mantis friends, because they eat a lot of bad insects that hurt our garden. They are also fun to study and write stories about.