The Chinese Mantis (Tenodera aridifolia) was introduced to America in 1896. It was brought over to serve as pest control in gardens… work which is also done by American animals, of course, including our native mantids, but logic and good sense have been rare commodities for decades, and at the time the Chinese Mantid was introduced people weren’t quite as aware of the ecological impact such decisions can have. See the foolish Eugene Schiffelin who, six years earlier, thought Central Park should have every bird mentioned in Shakespeare, so he introduced us to, among other things, the noisy hoodlum that is the European Starling.
I’m not sure who first introduced the Chinese Mantis to America, but the animal has had less of an ecological impact than the starling, even if it has been just about as equally successful here. And the introduction hasn’t stopped with modern times: people still buy the egg casings and place them in their gardens so that the animals will hatch and begin their predatory labors. You can also supposedly invite the insects to come to your yard, but it sounds like it's a crapshoot and I haven't come across anyone who claims a sure-fire method.
From what I’ve read, the greatest ecological impact the Chinese Mantis has had is that it does, in fact, eat its American counterparts, although not in numbers that have led to declines in American mantid populations (yet, anyway). They also eat bees too, though, and we need all the bees we can get.
They eat themselves, as well: a cannibalistic species, they are well-known for the fact that the females will consume the males after mating. Wham, bam, thank you (burp!).
Not being a native animal I’m inclined not to think too kindly on it… but I can’t help it, the Chinese Mantis (like all mantids) is a beautiful critter. The wings, when folded onto the body, are the light color and smooth texture of a well-stained piece of wood. The body is a bright and almost shocking green, darker than lime but just as vibrant.
[Photo by Heidi Cox (2012)]
Our neighbors found this one on their deck a few evenings ago, and we all spent the better part of an hour admiring it. We were particularly struck by the head and eyes. Never had any of us seen an insect that was, as Mike put it, so “situationally-aware.”
It would turn its head to look at us as we held it, and you could sense something very like intelligence behind its big eyes. An alien intelligence, yes, which we would not likely understand, but an intelligence nonetheless. Butterflies are beautiful too, but you never get the same feeling of awareness as you do with a mantid.
When this insect looked at you it really looked at you. It may even have been judging us, who knows. Certainly it didn’t mind being held, a fact which might have more to do with it being a cooler evening and our hands being a nice warm perch than it does any actual enjoyment at the interaction.
Although it flew several times this evening it never allowed a good picture of its open wings. I found this picture on the web, and although I’m not certain it is in fact a Chinese Mantis, it does show how the open wings appear in this sort of animal.
I am was struck by how much like an Oriental fan it looks. The whole insect looks Oriental, in fact, with that peculiar combination of delicacy and strength which is unique to the East.
We never contained it, allowing the animal to go where it wished… but where it wished was either our hands or, in the case of Heidi, her face. It eventually flew to the wall of the house and remained there, about two feet from their porch light. After a while we noticed a nice big spider on the same wall, headed in a straight line right for it! We waited in excitement, hoping we’d see the Chinese Mantis in action, but at a certain point the spider stopped and immediately turned to slink back the way it had come. It looked for all the world like it had spotted the big eyes of the mantis and had decided there was no way it was going to continue.
Who can blame it? The Chinese Mantis is a big bug (the largest mantis), and has an intimidating presence and a reputation for ferocity… but only if you happen to be on its menu. For us, it’s a harmless animal of significantly understated beauty and grace, and it’s nice to see this particular immigrant when it comes around.
For more on the Chinese Mantis, go here: