I thought it was a broken leaf lying on the floor and was about to pick it up when it rotated its heart shaped head towards me. Oh, the horror! What I had thought was the stem of a leaf was one of the mantis’ twiggy spriggy legs. I walked round it and its head swivelled to follow me. It was aware that I was there and it was watching me. Another insect, realising that a human was nearby, would have scuttled off into a dark corner of the room by now. It gave me the creeps.
I coaxed it into a bucket and nudged the bucket out the front door with my foot. I got the bucket right to the far end of the veranda then I kicked it over and ran like hell back to the house. The next morning the mantis was sitting by the front door like a faithful dog. It counted us out of the house with a shake of its head.
What really got to me was that it seemed so horribly intelligent. Insects are already superior to humans in many ways: they have three times as many legs, can carry a thousand times their own weight on their backs and can survive nuclear bombs. If their brains were just a little bigger they’d be good contenders to take over the world. I wondered if it was plotting something.
Somewhere deep in my memory two long disused synapses sparked: didn’t praying mantises bite off people’s heads?! Just for a moment I forgot that our praying mantis was the size of a hair pin and that I could crush it easily under the heel of my boot if I wanted to. All I had in my head was this vision of a giant carnivorous insect with slavering jaws which I couldn’t quite connect to any real experience or science lesson or wildlife documentary. It was a moment of cold panic, until I realised that I was thinking of an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the one where Xander has a crush on a beautiful new teacher who turns out to be a praying mantis type monster in human disguise.
Well, I felt a little foolish I can tell you, but also relieved. The praying mantis looked fairly revolting to me but at least it was probably harmless. And it didn’t stick around for very long; that evening when we got home from work it was gone.