Catherine Chalmers: Food Chain - Praying Mantises


"After many months of raising mantises I realized I didn't know a male from a female. I found an obscure pamphlet published in England thirty years ago by a couple whose hobby was raising praying mantises. To determine the boys from the girls you do the obvious: look under their skirts. You lift up the wings and count the segments on their abdomens. Males have eight and females six. After the last molt, you wait three weeks, heat the male up to 80 degrees, and put them together in a big space. They also said that if the female was well fed, she was less likely to eat him. But, it's not just a matter of male as meal. When she bites his head off she gets more sperm, according to one study I read.

The male was very cautious approaching the female. The female, for the most part, ignored him. He did most of the courtship. I thought of insects as having instantaneous sex. I stood there, camera ready, thinking it would be over in a flash. But not so with the praying mantis. They can stay coupled for hours. All my males got away unscathed, except one. After hours of being joined together she reached around, grabbed him by the neck and bit his face off. It took her another couple of hours to eat almost every last bit of him." - Catherine Chalmers

I implore you to not miss reading the absolutely compelling text and entertaining audio interviews with Catherine from This American Life and Studio 360, via her website.

Read the previous entry on Catherine for more about her Food Chain project.

Praying Mantis © Catherine Chalmers

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