What’s Up With My House?

My daughter and I had just started preparing the ingredients for pork fried rice. A dear friend had brought us lunch the day before; there was plenty of pork left for a second meal. We pulled out the eggs, the sesame oil, the soy sauce. I cut the bok choy, carrots and broccoli. We were just about ready to heat the wok when my daughter asked: What’s that?

She pointed toward the bin in the sink where all the compostable waste goes. That looked like a little brown stick until she leaned in closer and announced: It’s a praying mantis!

Carolina praying mantis on finger.
Carolina Praying Mantis

Regular readers (there are a few) know that over the summer, I found Monarch caterpillars in my house on a piece of milkweed. I am beginning to wonder what the animal world is telegraphing about my house. Free food?!

Monarch caterpillars on milkweed.

Since having kids, our home turned into a learning lab. When we lived in Upstate New York, we would get field mice in Have-a-Heart traps set in the house. The mice would go into a tank with food and water for the night before we took them to a field and released them. My daughters would watch the captives, often measuring how high each would jump in an effort to escape. I know. Indulgent mom. But hey, it was science!

Where did that mantis come from? I have no idea. I had been in the garden much of the morning. We have a dog who goes in and out. Maybe it was in the refrigerator on the broccoli for two days? No matter where it came from, it was now in my kitchen and we were down the research rabbit hole.

The research began where much of our animal-related research begins: With a call to Dr. Don. Although this time, it was a text.

Dr. Don, is Dr. Don Moore, my high school classmate. He too bears some responsibility for these science adventures. He lived with us while finishing his Ph.D. Of course, the girls found a baby rabbit back then; and along with Don’s guidance, tried to save it. It died. We had the lesson about to everything there is a season and a reason; evolution and all of that.

Don identified our visitor as a Carolina mantis; it’s name comes from the fact that it was once native to North and South Carolina. Now, this mantis can be found all over the United States, Mexico and Canada. It’s amazing how insects travel by bird, dog, suitcase, clothing.

The mantis gets the praying adjective attached because its front legs fold in, making it look like the insect is in prayer. In fact, after reading about the mantis family yesterday, they ought to be called preying mantises. As readers might know, the female mantis cannibalizes the male after breeding. But we learned yesterday that some mantises actually kill and feed off of hummingbirds!

By the way, there are 1,800 species of mantises in the world.

As a research lark, I decided to Google: myths + praying mantises. I was hoping maybe the arrival of the mantis was some wonderful sign. And well, it was; sort of.

Seeing a praying mantis can be considered to be good luck or bad, depending on your culture. Because of the “praying” hands, some Christians say that the praying mantis represents spiritualism or piety, and if found in your home, may mean that angels are watching over you. Some Muslims say that the praying mantis is always facing toward Mecca. However, in Italy, some believe that if a praying mantis looks at you menacingly, it can make you sick, and in Japan, it may even be a foretelling of your death. 


I am glad my house isn’t sitting in Italy or Japan right now.

My daughter put the mantis outside while we had dinner. She then went back out to check on it. Some check up. She decided it was too cold, and too cute, to leave outside. So the animal crackers got dumped into a zip lock bag.

Mantis on a stick in a jar.

The mantis goes outside today, cold or not. They mate in October and November. Dr. Don thinks, judging by size, this is a female. And besides, I told my daughter, I don’t think your parrots would like to have a bird-brain sucking mantis is such close proximity.

I think I should put up a sign for the outdoor creatures.

Sign reading: Closed for the Season.

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