September days draw our attention to the praying mantises. These eccentric insects begin climbing on window screens and marching on sidewalks in late summer and early autumn. Their egg cases are often seen in the fall, as this year’s mantises near the end of their lives and make provision for coming generations.
Humankind has long been fascinated by the mantis. The insect’s upright posture, its folded front legs, and its ability, unique in the insect world, to turn its head at will while otherwise remaining motionless all gave men the impression that it was a wise bug indeed. The Greeks named it; mantis means diviner or fortune teller. Seers and prophets thought of the mantis as a colleague and consulted it whenever they were trying to make a prediction.
In European countries people believed seeing a mantis brought good luck. Muslims believe the mantis is blessed. People in most cultures believed that killing a mantis brought bad luck or something worse. But in the American South, people called the mantis a “mule killer.” The saliva of the mantis was supposedly so toxic that horses and mules eating grass stained with it would fall over dead.

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