Eat. Pray. Loathe.

By Phil Plait | September 11, 2010 7:06 am

So I’m sitting at my desk and looking at people’s pictures from Dragon*Con when I feel an itch on my leg. Huh. Feels like my cat is down there rubbing against me. I look down, but my cat’s not there. What the…? So I take a closer look, bending over to peer at my leg, and realize

a 7-centimeter-long praying mantis is perched on my calf, clinging to the hairs.

OK. I did what any reasonable adult would do: I shake my leg violently and suppress myself from screaming like a little girl. The mantis falls off, and then looks up at me. It’s not happy.

Ever had a praying mantis glare at you? It will haunt my dreams.

Anyway, it crawled up onto my shelf, so I took this picture just in time for Caturday.

[Click to atomically THEMinate.]

I have a very healthy respect for praying mantises. Many years ago I either picked one up or it landed on my hand or something. I looked down at it in amazement, and without even flinching it used its front leg like a frakking nutcracker and squeezed my index finger. I bled like something from a horror movie. Those knives it carries under its arms are sharp.

I’ll admit, this guy was little and actually cute. I also have no doubt that it would emotionlessly and methodically eat me in my entirety after first tearing me apart cell by cell.

And the worst part? I know that for the next three days every itch I have will be a phantom mantis. Mocking me.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Humor, Pretty pictures

Comments (89)

  1. Hey Phil… I sympathize with the “phantom mantis” thing.

    I have to check people’s heads for lice at my work and every time I find them my head itches the rest of the night.

    The scientific term for this phenomenon is, “it sucks”.

  2. PS. Don’t mate with it or you really are doomed.

  3. Rob

    Seriously, they are not to be messed with. They’ve been known to catch birds.

  4. Yet another example of how religion can screw you up. An atheist mantis would have left you alone.

  5. OK. Yeah but then you put it outside. I mean the thing is not still hanging out in the book shelves right?

  6. Grego

    As I recall from “The Deadly Mantis”, you should:

    1) Take it down with an air-to-air missile.
    2) Trap it in the Lincoln Tunnel
    3) Kill it with incendiary mines.

    There might have been an easier way, but John Agar wasn’t available…

  7. Kevin

    Just a Hottentot’s god come to inspect your soul.

    “Southern African indigenous mythology refers to the praying mantis as a god in Khoi and San traditional myths and practices, and the word for the mantis in Afrikaans is hottentotsgot (literally, the god of the Khoi).” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mantis

  8. G

    Last week I saw my first live praying mantis. The cocker spaniel was jumping at it and then away; it was defeating my DOG. It was also brown with tan stripes, longer than my middle finger, and snapping its legs at him; when I first saw it I thought he’d bitten the head off a snake, until I got closer and got a better look. Scary sucker.

  9. dre

    Ha ha, “phantom mantis”. That movie was lame.

  10. Douglas Troy

    It was obviously taking a blood sample to catalog your DNA; it knows all about how you think Phil, its probably read your book too.

  11. Jason Pettis

    Phil,
    I had one crawling on my back last weekend, after some yardwork. I shook it off onto the grass and it gave me a similar glare as yours. There seems to be a lot out and active in the Denver/Boulder area this year.

  12. “…its probably read your book too.”

    Uh oh… I didn’t think of that.

    It’s already too late. He’s telepathically communicated to his brothers and sisters and they’re hatching a plot that nobody has thought of.

    We’re Doomed!

  13. LSandman24

    There was one on the gas pump nozzle when I was trying to fill up a couple of weeks ago… I went to the next gas station.

  14. Lupine

    I love mantises. They’re the only bug that will look you in the eye.

  15. Davidlpf

    I just got an attack of the groans.

  16. MantidaeMan

    The mistake you made was getting it mad. I’ve got several mantidae roving the gardens, and have even had them come inside the house. Never had a problem with them, and usually try to move them to where they’ll be safe. I don’t try to piss them off. They compete with black widows in my yard, so I have pretty tough mantids!
    You’re the first person I know who’s been bitten by one of these. I agree with (11) – it sampled your DNA to clone slaves…

  17. Katharine

    Mantids are awesome, Phil. It is so sad that you do not know this.

    http://pics.livejournal.com/ammonoid/pic/0008ydq4

  18. kinakomochi

    Scar Horrors, the Phantom Mantis?

    Yeah, sorry…

  19. There is a song called Praying Mantis by Don Dixon that you might enjoy if you can find it.

    Ah, youtube had it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3VOwoWlyDpE I suggest you all give it a listen, fun song!

  20. Adrian Lopez

    This praying mantis is a preying mantis, and Phil is the prey.

  21. I’m not sure what’s more disturbing. The fact a Praying Mantis landed on your leg, or the fact that it was clinging to the hairs on your leg, implying, to me at least, that you were not wearing any pants while surfing the net…. :)

  22. josie

    should not the title be Eat Prey Loathe?

    I’m sorry the momma mantis freaked you out…she thought you might be a nice meal for her babies that are undoubtedly nestled in all snug in your attic. :)

  23. Jennifer

    Praying mantises are great for glaring at you and they definitely always look as if they consider whether to eat you or not. But they are beaten to the first place of my scary bug list by assassin bugs who I think look even more alien and I always feel that they just don’t attack me because they like the roaches I give them better. But they think about it, I’m sure. I would also take a mantis pinch over an assassin bug bite every time.

  24. John

    Insect Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Mantis

  25. Christine

    When I was a child, we lived for a year in Nigeria. I used to love catching praying mantises. But some were BIG, several inches long, and could really bite. If you hold them by their thorax, right behind the head, and don’t let too much of your fingers show in front, they can’t grab with their front legs, nor can they bite.

  26. Nick

    I get very excited when I find a praying mantis. It’s my lucky day!

    I always pick them up, never harmfully of course. Let them walk from hand to hand – I’ll be facinated by the thing for 20 minutes before it flys away.

    I have _never_ had one bite, pinch, or harm me in any way! I didn’t even know they did that.

    I’ll probably still handle them the way I always have until, inevitably, I’ll get bit like Phil.

    Oh, on another note, I just watched the first installment of Bad Astronomy and I _loved_ it. Great work!

  27. Aha! You just revealed your own Achilles Tendon!

    Now be careful cause THEY now Know how to defeat you!

  28. Gary

    The Phantom MANTIS! That’s where George Lucas went wrong!

  29. CJSF

    There have been two insect types that you can tell LOOK you in the eye when in a confrontation. The praying mantis and the cockroach. I much prefer the praying mantis. I used to pick up and handle them whenever I’d come across them as a child or young adult. I haven’t seen one in a very long time. While impressive, I’d scarcely consider them scary.

    CJSF

  30. Mike

    So cool! I doubt I would have been able to suppress the urge to scream..

  31. AliCali

    If you’re looking for a religion, you could join the Church of the Praying Mantis.

    Why? Because it’s the “In” Sect.

  32. DrFlimmer

    I have to think of Mel Brooks’ “Robin Hood – men in tights”:

    “Btw: Do you know >>praying mantis<<?"

    The best fighting scene ever :-D

  33. Lonnie

    “It will haunt my dreams” – That was funny…

  34. TheBlackCat

    When I was a kid we went outside one evening the entire front of our house was COVERED with mantises. There were easily a couple hundred, each one probably 4 inches long. It was one of the coolest things I had seen.

    I’ve never been hurt by a mantis, but I was bitten by a really big (3 inch long) grasshopper once (amongst many other things). It didn’t hurt but it did scare the hell out of me since it jaws were about the size of my little fingernail.

  35. One of the more frightening things about the praying mantis: it’s an exotic introduced to this country in 1899.

  36. HvP

    After having wandered over to YouTube and seen videos of giant mantises taking on hummingbirds, snakes and even cats, I have to concede that the mantis is indeed the Chuck Norris of the insect world.

  37. Nigel Depledge

    Lupine (15) said:

    I love mantises. They’re the only bug that will look you in the eye.

    Depends how you define “bug”. Zebra spiders will also turn to face you.

  38. TheBlackCat

    @ Harold: According to wikipedia there are 20 native and a couple of exotic species in North America.

  39. TheBlackCat

    @ Nigel Depledge: If you want to get technical mantises aren’t bugs, either, bugs refer to a specific group within insects.

  40. Agustina Iansilevich

    Somewhere in the world, right now, is a praying mantis with a blood sample trying to clone he’s very own Phil Plait. Be very afraid.

  41. Mike

    “Phantom Mantis” is the name of my my Star Wars Episode One tribute band.

  42. Nexus

    After joining one of my friends from work at a ReptileExpo and watching her purchase a Dead Leaf Praying Mantis (so named for obvious camouflage abilities) and having to take care of it for her for a month or so, I have a great respect and love of these ginormous insects. Upon seeing it, I would have attempted to oggle and adore it. As a human, you have little to fear.

  43. Nexus

    Oh, and also, if you haven’t already witnessed the glory of Isabella Rossellini and her “Green Porno” showcasing insects doing their worst: propagating themselves, consider yourself educated. Here is her “Praying Mantis”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oXoPLeIIUFY&feature=related

    Slightly NSFW.

  44. Floyd

    I grew up in Indiana, where mantises are common, and my parents told us that mantises were “good insects,” because they ate the other, not so good/useful insects. Whether that’s the full story or not, I never got more than a pinch from a mantis.

    Changing the subject a bit, ladybugs really are good insects, simply because they eat aphids on outdoor plants.

  45. Jason

    They are a protected insect in my home state of CT.

  46. Buzz Mega

    It would be wise to take this emotional response and inspect it, internally, for what it really is: An irrational prejudice.

    Meaning that all of us are subject to these terrible, stupid, reflexive responses, no matter how conscious, rational and enlightened we feel we really are.

    It might give you insight in how to lambaste people (or not) who have irrational thoughts that counter your own higher-minded view of things such as flat earth, age of the universe, beliefs, vaccine opposition and a number of other things you rail (however justified) against.

    Then, perhaps, your approach will tune into ways to present data without so much of the attitude. Remember, Abu Jindal (terrorist extraordinaire) softened not with a waterboarding, but a cookie.

    (Sorry about the “up yours, sherriff,” but I think you feel the point.)

  47. Keith (the first one)

    All I can say is I’m glad the worst things I get at home are things like this:

    http://s650.photobucket.com/albums/uu228/krp205/?action=view&current=09-08-14Cricket.jpg

    Completely harmless but the most amazing green I’ve ever seen on an insect.

  48. Reb

    @47: Given that a previous mantis drew blood, I wouldn’t call this an irrational prejudice.

  49. Echaton

    Sure, the big ones can do some remarkable damage. But go and find a baby one. It may try to eat you, and it will be adorable in the process, simply because it can’t break the skin.

  50. These critters are the perfect proof that aliens have landed on Earth:

    http://on.natgeo.com/4KTb09

    J.

  51. I’ve not seen a whole lot of mantises in the wild but when I was in the military in Korea, some decades ago, they had some really big ones — probably around twice the size of yours, Phil. I’ve got a photo somewhere of one on my boot. (And yes, my foot was inside.) They also had some really huge stick insects.

    I wouldn’t say mantises creep me out at all. Earwigs, now that’s another story…. EEEW!!

  52. viggen

    I also have no doubt that it would emotionlessly and methodically eat me in my entirety after first tearing me apart cell by cell.

    Good thing it sees you as part of the landscape rather than as prey…. a sane man doesn’t waste time trying to eat a mountain;-) Must make you feel eerie that you had a tiny tiger hunting the forest of Phil.

  53. I haven’t seen a praying mantis in years. :-(

  54. Old Geezer

    A couple of weeks ago, I went out to mow the pasture. I did not even notice the Mantis sitting on the hood of the tractor, until I was under way. That guy sat on the hood staring at me for over an hour, through many bounces and turns, ….for over an hour. Finally, he got bored and jumped off, but for the time he sat up there, he never looked anywhere but straight at me.

  55. QuietDesperation

    Seriously, what a baby! It’s just a bug. (I tease) You only have to worry about the venomous ones. We had mantises (or some equivalent) up to eight inches long where I grew up on the east coast. The grasshoppers were 4-5 inches. My friends and I would actively seek them out.

    The bigger a bug it the less “icky” it seems to me. Spiders like orb weavers (So Cal gets them every year around this time) can be crawly, but I once won a $20 wager by letting someone put a pet tarantula on my face. Maybe I should have tried to get on Fear Factor. :)

    Most recent was a large beetle. People call them June Bugs, but they’re something else. I found wandering through my living room last month. Big beetle. Odd to find one indoors- he made a wrong turn somewhere. The carapace was the most beautiful green/gold I’ve ever seen on an insect. The rest was a shiny black. It looked like a little robot. I let him crawl on my hand and put him outside.

    Something like this, but mine was prettier and a bit bigger. :)

    They’re very clumsy bugs. The fly around with a huge buzz and barely seem in control of their flight, and on the ground they walk fairly slowly in a manner best described as “roly poly”. Sometime they’ll land on a person and sit there looking confused.

    @48

    I had a cricket in my house for two weeks once. I’d hear him chirp every so often, head over to the spot but he’d stop. Finally, I’m watching television, hear a chirp, and there he is on the couch next to me, so I smacked him quickly. Then I felt bad. He probably just hopped up onto the couch to watch TV with me. :(

  56. ggremlin

    Dear Sir:

    I’m sorry to report that you will not be invited to represent your species at the forth coming Galactic conference on Human membership.

    This is due to your recent failure of the Xeophobic test at your current location by our local agents. Your reaction was way outside the normal range that is expected for an above average intelligent member of your species, low as it is. Many members of the Galactic society have as you would call, “Insect-like” appearance and having you react in a like manner at the conference would just not do.

    With regrets,
    The local Galactic representive,
    P A. Mantis

  57. Praying mantises are not to be trifled with. I once got carjacked by one.

  58. dragonet2

    I hope you shifted it into a cup and got it outside. They eat so many other insects I would rather keep them safe. Granted, if one accidentally found itself in my house it would be dead and the abdomen eaten off* by one of the resident felines. I’m certain they’d go after it like a mouse. grabbing by the neck and avoiding the pointy parts.

    *it’s been very wet and crickets keep getting up on the porch to avoid drowning. Then they find the gap under the front door and, well, I have three very predatory cats. (And one that is ‘oh, I’m old and beyond that crap.”)

  59. Mantids are really cool. Someone mentioned cockroaches and their similar look. The two insects are in the same order (or maybe superorder).

    I was once bitten* by a praying mantis when I picked it up rather roughly.
    *now I’m not sure it was a bite, maybe the leg spikes like Phil experienced.

    My daughter and I went to “BugFest” in Raleigh, NC today. Always super cool science there and lots of Arthropod info. They had some mantids. We got to play with and feed cockroaches. My daughter loved it.
    They always serve food with bugs in it (prepared by great chefs). Most is pretty good. Mostly crickets and mealworms.

    I highly recommend attending if in NC in September.

  60. Yeebok

    @24 – that’s not alien, this is alien ( http://twitpic.com/20pi1f ) – apparently it’s a cave centipede. It was on the wall in the sun and clearly “weird” from about 10m away – my first thought was “what the heck is a lump of wet hair doing on the wall”.
    @48 – that looks like a cicada to me – though I always think of crickets as brown. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cicada – compare the aussie greengrocer about halfway down to the right. Now they are noisy.
    @56 – if it’s like your standard black beetle, but something around thumb size, and an irridescent green/gold, in Australia we call those Christmas beetles as they’re frequent in summer. Heavy, droning, solid little buggers that make a solid thud when they hit windows. I think they’re the bombers of the beetle world.
    As for the mantis, they’re fantastic creatures. Having one fly off and seeing the awesome colours in their wings .. and yeah they eat yucky bugs too.

  61. Gary Ansorge

    The Mantis doesn’t bother me. We had one dropped off at Red Top Mt a couple of years ago. 4 inches long and quite accustomed to being handled. It was apparently someones “pet” before it was given to the park.

    While in Arabia 20 years ago, I was walking along the road in Al Khobar, and a very large scorpion(also about 4 inches long) kept pace with me for several minutes,,,until he was run over by a car.

    I TOLD him to get out of the road. Guess he didn’t understand English(It WAS Arabia, after all).

    The only insect I hate is mosquitos.

    Gary 7

  62. Carolyn

    Oh my goodness I sympathize. One time I felt something feathery on my back and I thought it was just my hair. I swiped at my back and a ginormous centipede fell to the ground. Well, maybe it wasn’t that big, but at least as big as that praying mantis! I don’t really mind insects usually but finding a centipede crawling on my back really freaked me out.

    To this day sometimes when I feel something on my back my first thought is “OH NOES CENTIPEDE GETITOFFGETITOFF!”

  63. Chip

    Praying Mantises are fascinating creatures and you’ve noticed I’m sure how far they can turn their heads without moving their bodies. Its quite eerie to watch. They also eat a lot of bugs that would be bugging us in our homes so they’re deadly alien do-gooders around the garden. At least they’re not this big:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WqEccYXxaAY

  64. madge

    I used to have pet mantis called The Reverend, when I lived on Crete. Was twice the size of yours and fascinating to watch him watching us. That triangular head swivelling round to take everything in. Amazing critters : )

  65. kebernet

    Mulder, are you sure it wasn’t a girly scream?

  66. Lyr
  67. @56 Many years ago, I had a huge, ginormous, monstrously humongous June Bug land on me. I screamed like a little girl and nearly fainted. And, yes, I think I cried.

  68. Kate

    At least snakes don’t bother you. Seems like the bug thing is more common. It helps to spend a little time somewhere where the bugs are much bigger. Then the ones at home don’t seem so bad. We do have some weird ugly beetles where I live, but I bet they don’t like my looks much, either. The only insect enemy I have is yellowjackets, because they are so aggressive and unpredictable. Leave them alone, and they will sting you anyway, because they feel like it.

  69. ND

    “Btw: Do you know >>praying mantis<

    someone beat me to it!

  70. Melanie

    You are so lucky Phil! I’d love for a mantis to crawl on me in my house. It would be much better than what I do currently get crawling on me: wolf spiders and cockroaches. Blech!

  71. réalta fuar

    Geez, hope the B.A. never runs across a venemous centipede, or he’ll have to change his underwear. Kids in my old neighborhood in the States used to catch mantises and feed them grasshoppers. Much like watching the kids themselves eat watermelon.

  72. MadScientist

    I teased a large mantis until it bit me (I was trying to find out if they can be goaded into biting people – obviously they can, and it hurts) but I’d never had ‘em use those spikes on me – even the huge beasts over 10cm long never hurt me. I’ve only ever got nasty cuts from holding a large grasshopper by its legs – and in retribution I whipped out my pocket knife and shaved off the sharp spikes.

    @Kate#69: Snakes hardly ever bother anyone despite the tall tales about the evil serpents. Forget about the fish that got away – snake stories are always bigger than fish stories.

    Anyway, I think mantises are cute and generally unagressive (well, at least towards humans). If you want ugly, look up the New Zealand weta.

  73. QuietDesperation

    @56 – if it’s like your standard black beetle, but something around thumb size, and an irridescent green/gold, in Australia we call those Christmas beetles as they’re frequent in summer. Heavy, droning, solid little buggers that make a solid thud when they hit windows.

    Sounds about right. Yeah, they fly into walls and windows a lot. I think they might be DEvolving.

    The aliens in Five Million Years To Earth were mantis-y a bit.

    Then one gets all embiggened. :-)

  74. QuietDesperation

    @56 Many years ago, I had a huge, ginormous, monstrously humongous June Bug land on me. I screamed like a little girl and nearly fainted. And, yes, I think I cried.

    Oh, c’mon. Did you know little kids in Africa catch locusts and tie strings to them and let them buzz around their heads like little toy airplanes?

  75. JoeSmithCA

    Well Phil, good thing we don’t live in a ~21% oxygen enviroment like the Carboniferous period, aside from other serious effects (like that fire near your home would be ummm just a tad larger) you probably would have have had to fight for you life against the appropriately scaled Mantis–oh maybe 1.2-1.5 meters long (just a guess of course)

  76. Hamilton Jacobi

    I can’t believe no one has posted a link to Jerry Coyne’s recent post about Igor Siwanowicz. There are more amazing photos of mantises and other wildlife over at Igor’s site.

  77. Crux Australis

    Meh. You obviously have never seen a New Zealand weta!!1!!eleven!!!1!

  78. Pieter Nagel

    You Yanks are all wusses. Over here in South Africa, mantisses are toys our kittens play to death.

    Its the Parktown Prawns that should scare you.

    Which of the two insects do you think ended up being the basis for District 9?

  79. Katharine

    Wetas are friggin’ adorable, are you kidding me?

  80. @78 and others
    Wasn’t Weta the name for the studio that did the design work for Lord of the Rings?
    Had no idea the name was related to an insect. I don’t think they are all that ugly.

  81. DennyMo

    Pieter, thanks for mentioning the Parktown Prawns. I was somewhat distracted while watching “District 9″, couldn’t stop wondering “Why prawns, they don’t really look like prawns?!?” Now I get it.

    Praying Mantises (“Mantii”?) are cool, but I think Walking Sticks outrank them on the “coolest insect” list.

  82. Melanie

    Hello again Phil. Same Melanie as comment 71 up there. Some sort of wacky stuff going on. I left the house to go to school this morning and what do I find on my screen door? A freakin’ praying mantis. I actually squealed (with excitement) and exclaimed “Holy haleakala!”(damn you for that, by the way). Made my morning, possibly week. :)

  83. Angela

    Okay, gotta stop reading things that have pictures of insects. I keep feeling something crawling on me now, and it’s creeping me out! Eek.

    Now my cat would love to have it in the house. He stalks crickets, spiders and such that make it into the house, and just plays with them. I swear, he thinks he’s a dog, and he apparently thinks he’s a border collie. He’ll jump in front of them when they try to move and herd them into a corner where he can sit and stare at them in fascination. Until I see them, scream like a girl and run for the vacuum.

  84. dragonet2

    I work for a friend at a Renaissance Festival here in KC. A friend who works at another booth (and their retail store during the week) had a walking stick go up her skirt.

    She works in a little kid’s stuff booth, marbles, marble games, wooden shields and swords, etc.

    She says she was glad she had no customers at the moment because she ended up having to pull up her skirt and remove it because it had hooked into her underwear….. (scarred for life, years of therapy, etc.)

    She put it back on a tree and told it to get in with its life, in a tree. Not on a hunan.

    and Angela, in my house it’d dead. i’ve got a killer kitty, actually a couple. One is an insectivore–crickets started getting in and he discovered the abdomens are tasty. I keep finding the front ends of crickets…. eeuw.

  85. Marla

    I have a little mantis that hatched in June. I’ve been hand-feeding him until he could catch his own meals. I swear he looks up at me but my husband tells me that insects don’t have that ability to look into a human’s eyes with love and affection.

    Still, “Perry” loves me, of that I am sure. His facebook page is Perry Mantis, if you’d like to visit him.

  86. Messier Tidy Upper

    @32. AliCali Says:

    If you’re looking for a religion, you could join the Church of the Praying Mantis. Why? Because it’s the “In” Sect.

    LOL! Classic. :-D

  87. Robert Carnegie

    Are these the ones where the female eats the male?

    I plan to scream JUST EXACTLY like a girl in such an encounter so that Miss Mantis thinks I’m a sister. I don’t want any pieces bitten of me.

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