Hua’s Nature Field Note

Title: It’s a Leaf…No, it’s a Bug!

Abstract: Weird, crazy flora and fauna abound in Costa Rica. Did you know that Costa Rica has 4% of the world’s biodiversity? Join me and be prepared to be astonished by what Costa Rica has to offer.

Introduction: Here I am studying in the cloud forests of Monteverde, Costa Rica. Take a look at a map of Central America. Do you see Costa Rica? Costa Rica is bordered by Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south. Monteverde is located northwest of Costa Rica, near Guanacaste province. Just yesterday here in Monteverde, I woke up and found 14 species of moths on my front door! How great is that? From air, to land, to water, Costa Rica is abounding with colorful, magnificent flora and fauna. I am totally in awe and would like to take you with me on this journey. I want to show you what I see here in Costa Rica. So let’s the journey begin!

What does this creature or plant look like?

It’s a leaf… no, it’s a bug! I was taken by surprise when I saw this leaf-like insect. I thought it was a leaf until it started moving. Holy leafy! I was startled and took a step back as quickly as I could. It is a leaf-like praying mantis! The insect is all green, except for its red eyes that glow when you shine light. It looks like a little alien bug with two long antennae on its head. Its body can be divided into three parts: a head with mandibles, or jaws, thorax with a pair of grasping front legs, and abdomen with two white dots and two pairs of walking legs. The thorax bulges out more than the oval-shaped abdomen. The abdomen has parallel lines running on its surface, mimicking the veins of a leaf. My challenge to you: take two pieces of leaves, create the alien mantis, place it in a tree, return in an hour and try to find it!

How did I feel when I saw it?

I was a bit scared when I saw the insect thinking it was a leaf. One of my friends loves bug so he picked up the mantis to show me. I stood speechless and began to admire the beautiful piece of art nature has created. What are your reactions when you saw this mantis? Do you think that it’s good at hiding itself? In a game of hide-and-seek, I am sure this mantis would win.

Where does it live?

Mantises live on trees or on fallen leaves, whichever environment matches their colors. The one that we found was on a green leaf at night. It was just sitting there in a “prayer” position, hence the name praying mantis. I tried to use a stick to poke it, but it remained extremely calm. It did not run away. I poked it again. This time it responded by opening up its front legs trying to grasp the stick. What do you think the mantis uses its front legs for?

How does it use its environment to survive?

The green mantis was found on a green leaf. It tries to blend in to its background as a survival strategy. Imagine a green mantis on a white background, it’s pretty easy to find it. Generally mantises protect themselves by camouflage. It makes it harder for predators to find them. But when a predator approaches, the mantis is ready to strike with its front legs called raptorial legs. The front legs can result in a painful pinch if the predator does not give up. Pretty smart for a little bug, right? This is why I love nature so much, never-ending surprises. Can you think of other animals that blend into its background?

What can harm this creature? Are we worried about it?

Some of the predators of mantises include birds during the day and bats at night. To avoid bird detection, mantises have evolved to take different shapes and colors. Some look like a green leaf and others look like a dead branch or dried leaf. It’s all an act of camouflage that prevents predators from picking out the insect from its background. Then how do mantises avoid bats? Any guesses? Here’s how they do it. They can detect the echolocation of bats (this is how bats hunt) within close range. Once detected, the mantis stops flying and free-falls, creating a spiral or loop to confuse the bat. This way, they are safe from night predators.

Mantises are abundant in the tropics, representing a wide range of camouflage and mimicry. It is not in our concern that these alien bugs are taken here and there by predators. However, they represent beautiful pieces of art created by nature. It is evolution in action. You cannot help but be astonished by the weird and crazy concealments created by these insects. With this we should try our best to study and maintain these bugs.

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Crocodiles basking

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Fruit of poro poro plant

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Corals

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Flick bug

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Frog that sounds like a baby cayman

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The stick insect is in the same family as the mantises

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Leaf-like veins

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Thorax and abdomen

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Head and front legs

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