The Gravitationist

Like evolution, gravity is only a theory,
but I feel the truth of both in my bones.

16 September 2007

Praying at the invisible wall

I have a companion outside the window pane behind my computer monitor. A praying mantis, one of a large conclave of family Mantidae around the plantation this summer, has come to rest on the glass while contemplating his next project or his next meal.

The pronoun “he” will fit today's subject because I am not well grounded in the sexing of mantids and because I suspect this is a male who arrived here after a night of carousing. Male mantids generally fly at night in search of mating opportunities, not unlike habits observed in many species, including our own. I suspect this fellow was drawn to my window this morning by the small lamp which illumines my desk during pre-dawn hours of coffee-drinking and ’Net browsing.

It is a boom year for mantises, whose number in our valley is even greater than in bountiful 2004.

Now my morning visitor is put on alert by a hummingbird visiting the feeder two feet away. His head quickly swivels to follow the bird's movements. Does he fear this aerial intruder (bats prey on flying male mantids), or is his tiny brain calculating the probabilities of a meal (some larger mantid species include hummingbirds in their diets)?

The bird drinks and departs, and the mantis resumes his meditations, one antenna sweeping rhythmically across the pane, seeking odors of interest. But his torpor has been disturbed, and he begins to move, his rear appendages rubbing and tapping the glass for best purchase before each step. He moves across the pane to a point opposite a hanging indoor basket. He reaches for the basket edge and its support chain, but the glass defeats him. Again and again he grabs for the vine he believes can be his stairway. The invisible barrier is beyond his understanding, a dimension his limited brain cannot decipher.

Confounded by the unknown, at last he dumbly folds his front appendages and retreats to his prayers. It is, after all, Sunday morning in the Bible Belt.


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