Love, it is said, is stronger than death! Taken literally, never has an aphorism received a more striking confirmation. Here was a creature decapitated, amputated as far as the middle of the thorax; a corpse which still struggled to give life. It would not relax its hold until the abdomen itself, the seat of the organs of procreation, was attacked.
The custom of eating the lover after the consummation of the nuptials, of making a meal of the exhausted pigmy, who is henceforth good for nothing, is not so difficult to understand, since insects can hardly be accused of sentimentality; but to devour him during the act surpasses anything that the most morbid mind could imagine. I have seen the thing with my own eyes, and I have not yet recovered from my surprise.
Could this unfortunate creature have fled and saved himself, being thus attacked in the performance of his functions? No. We must conclude that the loves of the Mantis are fully as tragic, perhaps even more so, than those of the spider. I do not deny that the limited area of the cage may favour the massacre of the males; but the cause of such butchering must be sought elsewhere. It is perhaps a reminiscence of the carboniferous period when the insect world gradually took shape through prodigious procreation. The Orthoptera, of which the Mantes form a branch, are the first-born of the insect world.
Uncouth, incomplete in their transformation, they wandered amidst the arborescent foliage, already flourishing when none of the insects sprung of more complex forms of metamorphosis were as yet in existence: neither butterflies, beetles, flies, nor bees. Manners were not gentle in those epochs, which were full of the lust to destroy in order to produce; and the Mantis, a feeble memory of those ancient ghosts, might well preserve the customs of an earlier age. The utilisation of the males as food is a custom in the case of other members of the Mantis family. It is, I must admit, a general habit. The little grey Mantis, so small and looking so harmless in her cage, which never seeks to harm her neighbours in spite of her crowded quarters, falls upon her male and devours him as ferociously as the Praying Mantis. I have worn myself out in trying to procure the indispensable complements to my female specimens. No sooner is my capture, strongly winged, vigorous and alert, introduced into the cage than he is seized, more often than not, by one of the females who no longer have need of his assistance and devoured. Once the ovaries are satisfied the two species of Mantis conceive an antipathy for the male; or rather they regard him merely as a particularly tasty species of game.
THE MANTIS.—THE NEST
Let us take a more pleasant aspect of the insect whose loves are so tragic. Its nest is a marvel. In scientific language it is known as the ootek, or the “egg-box.” I shall not make use of this barbarous expression. As one does not speak of the “egg-box” of the titmouse, meaning “the nest of the titmouse,” why should I invoke the box in speaking of the Mantis? It may look more scientific; but that does not interest me.