Thursday, August 25, 2016

Invisible Mantis, Not Quite a Walking Stick

The barely perceptible twitch of a limb in the stillness of the dead calm noon 
brings the invisible stalker into the realm of the seen. 

For months, the mantis has been growing steadily, 
nourished on a strictly carnivorous diet of its arthropod kin, 
violently snatched by this stealthy stalker of shadows and sun,  
 slender stick-like frame cleverly cloaked 
in the glorious green of the Carolina summer.

This voracious ambush predator is similar to the native 
Carolina Mantis, Stagmomantis carolina, 
from its "neck" up, 

including the perpetual "praying" posture of its raptorial forelimbs, 
replete with a wicked and inescapable array of spikes, 
ever poised to engage in swift and deadly embrace.

But from there down, its spindly frame is quite different.

Its nubby vestigial wings long ago gave up flight 
in favor of stealthy creeping and a wickedly swift strike,
and its overall appearance is much more suggestive 
of the ingenious physical disguise of the Phasmids, or walking stick insects, 
than either the native Carolina mantis or any of our non-native mantises.

This brown-eyed beauty is the Walking Stick Mantis or Northern Grass Mantis, Brunneria borealis,
a Carolina native that combines all the stealth and ferocity of the mantis 
with the cleverly elongated form of a walking stick. 

Although hanging out in the shrubby undergrowth today, 
the elongated body of this slender green ghost 
enables it to virtually disappear in the tall grasses it generally haunts. 

This individual, like all the others you are likely to encounter from this species, is a female. 
Brunneria borealis reproduces through the fascinating process of parthenogenesis, 
which does not require the participation of a male. 
Given the female praying mantises' reputation for sexual cannibalism, 
whether deserved or not,
perhaps Brunner's Mantis has simply taken that practice to its logical extreme, 
dispensing with the male of the species altogether. 

Special thanks to Cousin Daniel for bringing this remarkable Carolina native to our attention. 
We're mighty glad to have made her acquaintance,
though there's nary an insect alive 
that's likely to share that sentiment...

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