Perhaps you’ve heard of the advice that goes something like this: Be careful, or you’re gonna lose your head.
For some creatures, apparently this warning should be taken literally.
One morning last week, while I was working at our clinic, I noticed a praying mantis resting on our glass window. Our office room is one huge room that I share with my other partners.
One doctor partner of mine also saw the praying mantis and nonchalantly said that female praying mantis sometimes chomp off the head and eat their male partner after they mate or even while they are mating.
I don’t think I heard that fact before. Maybe I was absent that day or missed that lesson during my biology class in high school and college. I know some creatures cannibalize their mates. The most notorious perhaps is the black widow spider, that’s why they are named such.
Other creatures that kill their mate after copulation includes the jumping spider, some scorpions, and some octopus. You probably have heard the song, “Love Hurts” by the rock band Nazareth. But for these creatures, love kills!
Our office secretary also overheard our conversation, and started ‘googleling’ some facts and videos about praying mantis.
I learned that mantids (plural of mantis) have 2 large eyes and 3 smaller ones and have stereo-vision. They can also rotate their head 180 degrees, enabling them to scan their whole surrounding. But maybe that’s the reason they are decapitated by their female mate, so they won’t look around anymore for another mate.
By the way, they are called “praying” mantis, because they have a stance that their front legs are folded like they are praying. The word “mantis” in Greek means prophet or seer. But don’t be fooled with this angelic pose, for they are deadly predators, preying on smaller insects. Bigger mantis can even prey on lizards, frogs, and birds. Yes, they prey even on their mates! They should be called “preying” mantis.
Such an opposite meaning between praying and preying. Do we sometimes give a different impression than who we really are? Do we hide horns underneath the halo? Maybe those mantids are just praying before they prey on their meal.
So back to my story, after hearing more facts from our secretary, courtesy of Dr. Google, we wondered whether the mantis on our window is a male or a female. Doctors can be very inquisitive, you know.
We learned that differentiating a male from a female praying mantis is quite simple. A male mantis has 8 abdominal segments, while the female has only 6.
So we looked closely on the praying mantis on our window whose belly is very visible to us. We determined that it is a male.
Doctors can determine the sex of the fetus or an unborn baby by looking at ultrasound images. They can determine the sex of a skeletal remains by anthropometric measures and bone features. They can even determine the sex where a tissue sample came from by doing genetic testing. But in our case, we also determined the sex of a praying mantis by simply looking at its belly.
After learning all these, we said to the mantis, “Be careful buddy, or you’re gonna lose your head.”
I guess, the warning applies to humans too, especially for the young ones. Many times we lose our head, in a sense that when the ‘love bug’ bit us, we lose our mind and we abandon our thinking brain, as we behave and act against all reasoning.
As Francisco Balagtas, a Filipino poet wrote long time ago in his work Florante at Laura:
O pag-ibig na makapangyarihan, pag pumasok sa puso nino man, hahamakin ang lahat masunod ka lamang.
(Love, all-powerful thou art, when you enter anyone’s heart, all will be abandoned, just to follow thy path.)
To all lovers out there, not just for the mantids, please keep your head.
(*English interpretation of the excerpt from Florante and Laura is my own translation.)