It looks like an overgrown mosquito and causes fear among many people who find these menacing-looking giants in their homes. But, alas, crane flies are as gentle as they come. They can neither sting nor bite. They can make it difficult to sleep as they flitter around your walls and ceiling at bedtime, but don’t worry, they won’t attack you in your sleep. In fact, they aren’t even capable of attacking as many species do not even have mouth parts. So, no, they don’t eat mosquitoes either as many people believe. And they certainly aren’t mosquitoes, despite their uncanny resemblance.
The insect world is rife with fodder for Birds of New England’s Stranger Things series. It doesn’t get much stranger than the praying mantis, a beloved insect that is not seen often enough.
It had been a few years since I had seen one, in fact, but a recent walk at Highstead in Redding, Connecticut, yielded three of the beauties. The first one got my attention as it flew across the meadow path and landed on a goldenrod stalk that was bursting with September color. I can’t remember the last time I saw a praying mantis in flight. It’s hard to miss as they are quite substantial insects, regardless of their skinny frame when not flying.
The second and third mantises I saw were on top of each other, literally. These ones were on a goldenrod stalk as well. One of my favorite things about September is the proliferation of goldenrod in New England’s meadows.
The praying mantis is so named because it looks as if it is praying when it’s waiting for food. Check out the bent front legs held together in the photo above.
Praying mantises are excellent hunters with an oversized, triangular head and large compound eyes. They are green, brown or a combination of those colors, making them hard to find for both prey and predators. Another great adaption utilized by mantises are the spikes front legs for capturing and holding prey.
Mantises eat crickets, moths, other insects, and, allegedly, hummingbirds. I’ve never seen this, but I’ve read it enough to include here. They also sometimes eat each other. Yes, sometimes the female eats the male after mating. I don’t know if that was the case with these two. I didn’t stick around to find out.
Here’s a shot from the close-up meadow series I did for the Darien Land Trust five years ago. I came across many strange things during my time in the meadows that summer. It’s amazing what you find when you tune out everything except your immediate surroundings.
Treehoppers, not to be confused with planthoppers, are often called “thorn bugs” because of their appearance.
Here’s the second species for my new “stranger things” series. Cicadas are best known for the tremendous amount of noise they produce, but they are also quite strange-looking creatures. A few years ago, my son Will and I were lucky enough to stumble across a cicada emerging from the exoskeleton that had protected it during its nymph stage.
With an intense heat wave gripping much of the country, including New England, and many people confined to their air-conditioned homes, it seems like an opportune time to start a new series of photos called “stranger things.”
I’m stealing the title from a popular Netflix show, of course, but this series of photos will feature strange-looking creatures found in New England. I have plenty of fodder in my basement and yard, but I will venture into the field for some shots, as well.
I’ll start with the dobsonfly, a large and intimidating-looking insect. I noticed this one the other day clinging to the side of my house near my deck. This is a female dobsonfly as it has a small mandible. Males have large mandibles and look even more fierce.
Like most intimidating-looking creatures in New England, dobsonflies are harmless to humans — although I’ve read that females can inflict a painful bite if provoked.