Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Nature Notes: Close Encounters

Mantis on the Prowl

When you look at a mantis, it looks back.

I mean, it really looks back, as aware of you as you are of it. Its body moves slowly, if at all, but its head swivels to follow you, intent, focused, with a fluid motion that matches your own.

When I held out my hand to this one, it did not flinch. It looked repeatedly from my eyes to my hand and back up again, calmly assessing my intentions. I felt as if I were in the presence of a perfectly alien intelligence. And I tell you, it took my breath away.

I first noticed the mantis on the porch. I took progressively closer shots while it tried to ignore me. Eventually, the camera got close enough to be annoying, and the creature began to rock side to side - and to my surprise, to move toward me.

It actually reached out and gently grasped the extended lens with its arms, so I set the camera down in front of it. (Had they been in focus, these would have been fabulous shots.)

I thought maybe it saw itself reflected in the glass, but no. It climbed over the camera and kept coming toward me. At which point I began to wonder how big a bite it could take out of my face and gave it some space.

I was working in the area and I was afraid I might step on the mantis, so I held out my shovel to it. It immediately climbed aboard and stayed there, doing a "king of the world" pose at the tip while I walked it over to the pussy willow, where it climbed off as soon as a branch was within reach of its long, clawed arms.

There it stayed, posing for just a few more closeups, watching me divide the lilies, and doing its daily Tai Chi:

Tai Chi Mantis

And then it was gone. Vanished completely, back to wherever aliens go.

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