Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Dog finds religion in standoff with praying mantis

A praying mantis takes a stand in a Spokane Valley yard. (Photo by Vickie Sienknecht)

A praying mantis is a tough dude among bugs. It’s born to fight, not to flee even a bone-crunching dog.

On Monday, when Vickie Sienknecht heard her golden retriever, Desi, growling and barking in her Spokane Valley home’s dining room, she was imagining that a big critter had found its way into the house.

Instead, she discovered her 60-pound retriever in a standoff with a few inches of carnivorous predator.

“The praying mantis looked like it was in fight mode with its front legs up and waving them in the air,” Sienknecht said. “Desi was scared of it and jumping all over the place. When I appeared, she hid behind me.”

Desi has not quite mastered being a guard dog.

Sienknecht caught the bug and released it unharmed in her yard to do its beneficial “thing.”

This insect is named for the pose it takes while waiting to ambush prey, with its long front legs held in a position humans often assume while praying.

The insect also could logically be called the “preying” mantis for killing and eating bugs such as crickets, grasshoppers and spiders. Gardeners like to see the praying mantis around, since it eats plant eaters rather than plants.

People often refer to any mantid as a praying mantis, but it’s just one of the smaller groups within the 1,800 species of praying mantids found around the world. Some of the larger species expand the range of their diet from bugs to frogs, lizards and small birds.

The praying mantids have long necks topped by a triangular head they can turn 180 degrees. Their front legs have rows of sharp spines to help them hold their prey for consumption, usually head first.

They range in color from tan and brown to shades of green. Some sources say their color is related to their habitat, and that’s true. They often blend amazingly well into their hunting area, camouflaged to look like a leaf or stem.

But an individual praying mantis does not change color as it moves through the landscape.

“The coloration of mantids is genetically controlled,” eNature wildlife expert David Herlocker said. “The mantids found in your area come in green and brown forms, and except for the tendency for green individuals to become a dull grayish-brown as they get old, they don’t change color during their lives.

“Natural selection usually dictates the ratio of colors in any given population, in habitats with a predominantly brown background, this form will prosper by escaping the notice of visual predators (mainly birds), and in lush green situations, more of the green mantids will survive to reproduce.”