Social Life in the Insect World eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 270 pages of information about Social Life in the Insect World.

The attack on the victim begins at the back of the neck or base of the head.  While one of the murderous talons holds the quarry gripped by the middle of the body, the other presses the head downwards, so that the articulation between the back and the neck is stretched and opens slightly.  The snout of the Mantis gnaws and burrows into this undefended spot with a certain persistence, and a large wound is opened in the neck.  At the lesion of the cephalic ganglions the struggles of the cricket grow less, and the victim becomes a motionless corpse.  Thence, unrestricted in its movements, this beast of prey chooses its mouthfuls at leisure.

CHAPTER VI

THE MANTIS.—­COURTSHIP

The little we have seen of the customs of the Mantis does not square very well with the popular name for the insect.  From the term Prego-Dieu we should expect a peaceful placid creature, devoutly self-absorbed; and we find a cannibal, a ferocious spectre, biting open the heads of its captives after demoralising them with terror.  But we have yet to learn the worst.  The customs of the Mantis in connection with its own kin are more atrocious even than those of the spiders, who bear an ill repute in this respect.

To reduce the number of cages on my big laboratory table, to give myself a little more room, while still maintaining a respectable menagerie, I installed several females under one cover.  There was sufficient space in the common lodging and room for the captives to move about, though for that matter they are not fond of movement, being heavy in the abdomen.  Crouching motionless against the wire work of the cover, they will digest their food or await a passing victim.  They lived, in short, just as they lived on their native bushes.

Communal life has its dangers.  When the hay is low in the manger donkeys grow quarrelsome, although usually so pacific.  My guests might well, in a season of dearth, have lost their tempers and begun to fight one another; but I was careful to keep the cages well provided with crickets, which were renewed twice a day.  If civil war broke out famine could not be urged in excuse.

At the outset matters did not go badly.  The company lived in peace, each Mantis pouncing upon and eating whatever came her way, without interfering with her neighbours.  But this period of concord was of brief duration.  The bellies of the insects grew fuller:  the eggs ripened in their ovaries:  the time of courtship and the laying season was approaching.  Then a kind of jealous rage seized the females, although no male was present to arouse such feminine rivalry.  The swelling of the ovaries perverted my flock, and infected them with an insane desire to devour one another.  There were threats, horrid encounters, and cannibal feasts.  Once more the spectral pose was seen, the hissing of the wings, and the terrible gesture of the talons outstretched and raised above

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Social Life in the Insect World from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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