We have had a visitor at our mobile home now for several days. It is a large praying mantis and I find it unusual that it chooses to hang out on the vertical patio screen when there is a perfectly good lemon tree only a few feet away. At one point I even thought that may his tiny feet were caught in the screen but I discovered that I was wrong as I watched it move about when I came too close in my examination. But our little visitor has got me thinking about the fascinating world of insects and of arthropods in general.
In my youth I was an amateur entomologist and in many ways I still am. I have been fascinated with (and sometimes disgusted by) insects for as long as I can remember. I have very young memories of the marvelous dragonflies that could be found around the lake at Alondra Park and when I was told that the immature dragonflies lived in the lake and hunted fish and tadpoles I was completely taken in. The enchantment with insects led me into a phase of field study, collecting, and preserving insect specimens that lasted many years. The desire to collect and preserve insects died away while I was still in my twenties because I could no longer bring myself to kill the poor creatures but my first born, who had been my constant companion, was already bitten by the study of insects and she is today a biologist for the State of California whose job is with researching and implementing biological controls of insect agricultural pests and the diseases they transmit.
I was once told that entomologists come from one of two primary beginnings and first are those (like myself and my daughter) who are completely fascinated by the creatures. The other group is comprised of those who, as children, dropped bricks on them or otherwise find ways to crush them. The first group continues to study them while I think the second group is searching for better ways to exterminate them. My daughter researches natural and biological means of control.
I read once that the largest single biomass on the planet are the ants of the order Hymenoptera and it was estimated that it exceeded the combined biomass of all other life forms on Earth. That is mind-boggling to say the least. Hymenopterans are fascinating creatures and range in size from microscopic creatures that are internal parasites of the eggs of other minute insects up to (around here anyway) tarantula hawks that may be two-inches or more in length.
Our praying mantis visitor is just over three inches in length and I know his kinfolk can grow much longer. We don’t have a lot of really huge insects in the southwestern United States although I have seen some of their cousins like scorpions, centipedes, and millipedes that were six to eight inches long. Many years ago my wife and I visited the Yucatan Peninsula and stayed at a tropical hotel that had rustic screened rooms without telephones and other amenities but what it did have were the largest walking sticks that I had ever seen not to mention a plethora of other large insects. I don’t recall the name of the hotel but my wife told me at the time it had been in the movie Against all Odds, which I have never seen, and I believe we stayed there after touring Chichén Itzá those two plus nearly three decades ago.
Insects are everywhere. They are in our food and in some places they are food. They were likely the first terrestrial colonizers and they will likely be the last. Although we consider some to be pests and some beneficial I simply cannot imagine how this world would have evolved without them.