September is the time of year when we start noticing le mantidi religiose (the praying mantises), which are very common here in Italy. I had always wondered why they seemed to appear so late in the year, and where they arrived from, but a quick investigation revealed the simple fact that they are already present from about May or June, when they hatch out of their ooteche (a kind of hard cocoon containing up to 200 eggs), but are simply too small and too well camuffate (camouflaged) to be easily seen.
Le Mantidi religiose take their name from the fact that they keep their two powerful front legs folded before them in an attitude of prayer in preparation for a lightning strike on their preda (prey). Their leafy green coloring, and plant like shape enables them to camuffarsi (camouflage themselves) easily amongst the foliage as they patiently await an unsuspecting mosca (fly) or other small insect. They are able to rotate their strange alien like head through 180 degrees in order to detect their pasto (meal), and when the opportune moment arrives their zampe anteriori (front legs), which are armed with sharp spines, spring out to grab the unsuspecting prey, which has the pleasure of being eaten alive.
But the worst is yet to come. Let’s just say that the mating habits of le mantidi leave a lot to be desired, and if you want to know exactly what they get up to you will have to do a bit of homework and translate this!:
L’accoppiamento delle mantidi è caratterizzato da cannibalismo: la femmina, dopo essersi accoppiata, o anche durante l’atto, divora il maschio partendo dalla testa mentre gli organi genitali proseguono nell’accoppiamento. Questo comportamento è dovuto al bisogno di proteine nella rapida produzione di uova; prova ne sia che la femmina allevata in cattività, essendo ben nutrita, spesso “risparmia” il maschio.