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These Bugs Eat Their Victims Head-First — While They're Still Alive

By Justin Breen | October 31, 2016 5:28am | Updated on November 11, 2016 10:45am
 The Praying Mantis can be found all over Chicago.
Praying mantis
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CHICAGO — If you think Halloween is scary, just be happy you're not a bug considered tasty to a praying mantis.

The mantises, which are still thriving all over Chicago due to the warmer weather lately, kill their victims by snatching them and then eating them while they're still alive. Often, they start by eating the bugs' heads first.

"It's a snatch-and-grab and then they just start chowing down," said Allen Lawrance, the invertebrate specialist at Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. "They have an incredibly fast strike."

Check out this Praying Mantis hanging out by the Portage Theater:

While the female mantises are known for eating the heads of their male counterparts after mating, that's only partially true.

In labs, cannibalism was more frequent, but in the wild, the males were eaten less than a third of the time.

Mantises can be found in every Chicago neighborhood, especially in gardens, along fences and near light sources.

The adults won't die until the season's first big frost.

The mantises catch insects like moths, wasps and caterpillars with their forelimbs. Lawrance said mantises also have been known to munch on still-wiggling lizards, hummingbirds and even snakes.

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There are a few species of mantises living in Chicago, Lawrance said. Those include the introduced Chinese mantis, which is the largest kind of the insect, and the smaller, native Carolina mantis.

Mantises are beneficial, Lawrance said, because they eat a lot of pest bugs. The Chinese mantises, though, can cause problems because they eat pollinators like bees and butterflies.

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Mantises lay their eggs along fences and on sheds all over Chicago, Lawrance said. The best time to start looking for the cases is now, Lawrance said, noting they look like brown foam. The egg cases, which are also called oothecas, contain about 100-200 eggs. The protective covering on the cases keeps the future mantises alive until spring.

You can bring the cases into your home, but make sure they're in an air-tight container. The warmer indoor conditions could cause the eggs to hatch, and if the container has openings, hundreds of baby mantises, which are about as small as a pinky fingernail, could come crawling out.

"This happened to me and they were crawling all over my ceiling," Lawrance said.

Here is the laying of an egg sack and the eggs hatching

But overall, Lawrance said, humans have nothing to fear when it comes to the praying mantis.

"They can't do anything to hurt you," he said.

This bug never had a chance (warning: graphic)

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