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On The Town
John O'Reilly
August 30, 1954
The praying mantis (above, life-size) is causing panic in the streets
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August 30, 1954

On The Town

The praying mantis (above, life-size) is causing panic in the streets

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FOUR YELLING housewives ran out of a Manhattan delicatessen. Close behind them and no less agitated sped the proprietor in his white apron. They and the crowd that soon gathered were peering furtively into the store when the squad car arrived.

"It's in there," the man said.

"It glared at me, officer," said one of the excited women.

Unable to get a clear explanation from the uneasy crowd, the police closed in to defend the public safety against they knew not what. Once inside, they found the panic had been created by a four-inch-long greenish insect standing defiantly in the middle of the floor. It was a praying mantis.

This incident is typical of many eastern cities in late August and in September, when these tigers of the insect world appear in odd urban places. The police, museums and zoos receive frequent telephone calls from startled persons who have been confronted by one of the critters. Often the callers are office workers, for the mantises, although rather poor flyers, are carried upward by strong winds.

"There's a big bug on my window sill and he's staring at me. What shall I do?" one museum caller said.

"Stare right back, madam, it's only a praying mantis," she was informed.

The adult mantis is green and brown with two pairs of long, lacy wings. It stands on four of its six legs as though teetering on jointed toothpicks. Its forelegs are its weapons, a wicked pair of grabbers set with opposing teeth, like rose thorns. The insect takes its name from its habit of posing with these forelegs folded in an attitude of prayer.

Sitting in its holier-than-thou posture, the mantis waits for its victim. Should a grasshopper come along, the insect carnivore slowly turns its head to watch the approach of its next meal. When it is within reach, the toothed forelegs shoot out with such rapidity that the grasshopper, for all his own agility, hasn't a chance. He is pinioned in a pair of saw-edged jaws from which there is no escape. Then the cold-eyed conqueror takes his time. Leisurely and daintily he starts nibbling on the struggling prisoner with the calm of a man eating an ear of sweet corn.


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