Michiana Chronicles: Mantis

Sep 2, 2021

Credit Ken Smith

In the sunlight on the other side of the kitchen window, a sly, smile-shaped curve of youthful green caught my eye. I looked closer and saw that this green smile was the right flank of the long rear body segment of a barely stirring praying mantis. At the other end, two antennae swung slowly through space from its triangular head which was topped on the outer edges with those remarkable green bulging eyes. Deep inside each of those green bulges a black spot, sometimes in mesmerizing motion, indicated where the creature was directing its gaze. 

 

From the slender middle body segment came those two generously barbed and spiritually folded limbs that give a mantis the impression of praying just before or just after a brutal meal. Then the final long curving body segment, finely etched in brown on top like a cockroach and glowing green on the flanks, suggesting elegantly folded wings beneath. Below the body were middle and back legs like the slenderest of twigs, shaded green and tan, assembled in three parts like our own legs. Using the slight, ragged twiggy appendages where feet or hands would be, the creature was somehow able to hold itself effortlessly to the vertical pane of glass.

Credit Ken Smith

 

I turned on the phone camera, attached a magnifying lens, and walked outside to take a closer look. Now I could see the segments of the antennae, the vertical dark stripes down the triangular head, and three more tiny black eyes, arranged in a triangle where you might say the forehead should be. Two eyes of one kind, three of another, then. For a moment, the mantis tolerated the phone camera coming near, and then it became agitated and I withdrew, leaving it to go about its business. 

 

But I kept my human eye on its progress that afternoon. The mantis moved a foot or two along the side of the house each hour. At one point it edged up to a spider’s web dotted with gnat-sized bundles the spider must have left for munching later. Here I saw the rough jaws of the mantis working back and forth on a small, crunchy morsel, and I guessed that it had stolen something tasty from the spider. 

 

Credit Ken Smith

Later the mantis was exposed on the sunny wall of the house, where it glowed, and under the magnifying lens, the barb tips along its folded arms each caught the light. Then finally the mantis made its way into the mottled shade of some alert spikes of hollyhock still blooming in purple beside the driveway. Up the block, school was letting out, bus drivers working the transmissions hard to get their vehicles up to speed, and high schoolers were texting their way down the sidewalk home. Above the nearest garden bed, bees and other flying pollinators bumped into flowers and backed out again. The mantis, like many a hunter on every continent, waited under the hollyhock leaves with deadly patience. If I came close enough on my hourly visits, I could see the black dots of its green eyes swing toward me. Then those eyes would swing away, the creature resuming the proper life of a mantis, which I am sure I hardly understand.

 

Around dinner time, I lost track of the little alien, and it left no forwarding address. The mystery of its barbed and patient presence lingers.

 

Credit Ken Smith

 

Music: "Wrong Foot Forward" by Flook

Credit Ken Smith