Praying Mantis


Praying Mantis (kamakiri, Japan)

***** Location: Japan, other regions
***** Season: All Autumn, others see below
***** Category: Animal


praying mantis, praying mantid,
kamakiri 鎌切 Tenodora aridifolia
..... tooroo, tōrō 螳螂
..... ibomushiri いぼむしり, ibojiri いぼじり
kokamakiri 小かまきり(こかまきり) small praying mantis
..... ax insect, ono-mushi斧虫
..... praying insect, 祈り虫
"Chinese mantid" Paratenodera sinensis
kigo for all autumn


Kigo for Mid-Summer
mantis is born, tooroo umaru 蟷螂生まる

baby mantis, kokamakiri 小かまきり
..... tooroo no ko 蟷螂の子
In May and June the babies come out in great numbers. They already look like the parents, just in a smaller edition. They start lifting their little arms like a grown mantis, yet they are still all soft green.


Kigo for early winter

tooroo karu 蟷螂枯る (とうろうかる)
withering praying mantis

karetooroo 枯蟷螂(かれとうろう)


Most kids have tried keeping praying mantises at one time or another. There are a number of strangely shaped and colorful tropical mantises which are now being bred in captivity.

Read more about this interesting insect

Worldwide use


Things found on the way

Haibun by Carol Raisfeld

A few weeks ago, as it was turning cooler, spider webs were everywhere...early morning dew made them all sparkle. Passing our hinoki tree I heard the birds, looked up and saw this praying mantis caught in a giant web. My heart skipped a beat as I watched him struggle to free himself. He was huge and so beautiful. I ran into the house to get my gardening gloves and was back at the tree in record time.

Gently I took him from the web and placed him in one of the nearby flowerpots filled with impatiens and daisies. I knew the struggle took it's toll because he didn't move much and I have no idea how long he was trapped with no food or water. Hopefully he would drink the dew and water from the leaves in the flowerpot. I must have come out to look at him six or seven times that day ...

He seemed to be losing his color and I felt so sorry for him... and me. I just wanted to cry. I really wanted to remember him, so I got my camera and as I snapped this photo he looked up at me as if to say thanks for giving me a little more time.

In the morning I found him lying under the flowers... his final resting place. I still think about him and I'm glad I have this photo to share. Now I know he won't be forgotten ... I wonder if he knows.

early morning -
a twig in the flowerpot
turns to the sun

Published with permission
Original from November 2002 is here

... ... ...

And here is a reply from
"chibi" (pen-name for Dennis M. Holmes)

In a Taoist view -- the spider was deprived of an essential meal that would have helped perpetuate the spider family. We, as humans, are graced with both the curse and cure of transfering our values to and from nature. Indeed, Carol followed her heart. I too struggle to action through head and/or heart.

Now, my "scientific" mind probes what was happening to the mantis in Carol's story. I suspect that the spider had "bitten" the mantis and the mantis was dying from the poison. Also, the mantis had probably laid her eggs already and the end of her life was close. Perhaps, a story could be spun (excuse the spider's pun) that the mantis ate the spider that bit her? A Greek tragedy of the order of Sophocles could be written from this "natural" drama. The insect world is as alien to us humans as any UFO-ologist could imagine! In fact, if you look with an eye towards that relationship, the mantis face does look Area 51 familiar!!

(aside -- Dear Carol, your haibun is beautiful and I do not intend to deter from that. If I have in any way, I beg forgiveness. It did for me make me pause to appreciate the many layers of that moment. Thank you.)

... ... ...


It is indeed difficult to know when to interfere and when not, the Chinese WU WEI is one way of teaching us.

Do not do anything (if it is not in proper timing), my addidion in parenthesis.

deep silence -
the song of insects

... ... ...


It is very enlightening to read about the Taoist view, and it's true I deprived the spider family of an essential meal that would have helped perpetuate the spider family (now I feel badly for the spider family). But I had to follow my heart when I saw the plight of the mantis, thinking I could save her... I'm sure to disturb the balance of nature is not good, but we tend to interject human values into these situations.

I know after reading this I will think twice about intervening in 'natural' happenings. But when we have to follow our heart, I imagine that's a part of what makes us human after all.;-)

deep night
the silence of a spider

... ... ...


I think the death of this mantis was not in vain after all now. It gave rise to many haiku and food for thought. I hope many will read this and think about life and death, sun and rain, yin and yang more deeply.

Below is a note on the WU WEI philosopy.



Laozi’s (Lao Tse, Lao Tsu, Lao Dse) famous slogan has puzzled interpreters for centuries and has given rise to numerous interpretations. Arguably, Laozi knew it was paradoxical since the complete slogan is wu-wei and yet wu not-wei. The first character is not the main problem (see You-wu). Wu is simply "does not exist."

In this phrase, however, interpreters treat it as a negative prescription: "avoid wei." Chinese texts include many similar uses and we commonly read other declarative sentences in The Laozi as prescriptions. So, let us take it as saying that one should lack wei–whatever that is. Saying what wei is is the harder problem.

Textbook interpretations say wei means "purpose." In modern Mandarin, the character has two different tones. The fourth tone reading is usually translated as "for the sake of." In the second tone reading, the character would normally be translated as ‘to act.’ Thus, translators argue, wu-wei really means no purposive action. The whole slogan is "no purposive action and yet do act."

Read a scholarly excursion on the subject of WU WEI

................................... Zhuangzi (ChuangTzu 莊子)
Chad Hansen's Chinese Philosophy Pages


karikari to kooroo hachi no kao o kamu

crunching and munching -
the mantis chews on
the bee's face
(Tr. Gabi Greve)

karikari is an onomatopoetic expression, mimicking the sound of the mantis eating a bee, as it sounds to the Japanese ear.

Yamaguchi Seishi


> mantis ~
> making haiku
> in the still meadow

eric l. houck jr.


baby mantis
staggers along the pavement



Related words

***** Insects (mushi) (05) Autumn insects, aki no mushi




Kami said...

Thank you all for a fascinating, challenging discussion of wu wei and the insect world.

Say a prayer
for the spider
and the mantis

Kami (Judy Kamilhor)

Michael Baribeau said...


nothing stirs --
the bird suddenly
takes flight

Narayanan Raghunathan said...

praying mantis
recites the lotus sutra ~
the Buddhas listen

shanna baldwin-moore.... hawaiian haiku said...

this was a wonderful thing to read and start my day...thank you all

magik of life is
living of aloha


Anonymous said...

Praying Mantis - prays or preys?

A praying mantis, or praying mantid, is the common colloquial name for an insect of the order Mantodea. Often mistakenly spelled
preying mantis (a tempting mistake, as they are notoriously
predatory) they are in fact named for the typical "prayer-like"

Praying mantids are one of the few insects that can turn their
heads. They have excellent vision, and hunt insects (and sometimes
small vertebrates) by stealth and a rapid striking attack.

TEXT Taken from ---
Praying mantis - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

. Gabi Greve said...

love is over -
now she has lunch
in the autumn sun

Look at the full sequence, click at the haiku.

Gabi Greve, October 2006


. Gabi Greve said...

Wide-abdomen Mantid
By ROWAN HOOPER, The Japan Times