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September 10, 2012

Dancing Kung-Fu Praying Mantises

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I've always thought insects were neat. I've never been afraid of them and wouldn't dare squish one in a tissue simply because it was in my house, though I have been known to hoover up ants. (Not up my nose a la Ozzy Osbourne, in case that needed clarifying.) Praying mantises were my favourite growing up in Canada, with their tiny, alien-like, articulated heads that rotate nearly all the way around, and those raised and ready lobster-like claws. They were a constant presence around our house in the spring and summer.

I was a very sensitive little girl and as mentioned didn't like seeing bugs killed. One summer day our neighbour who was a dad and a nice man walked up our driveway where I was standing with my mom. After a few minutes of chatting he walked over to where a big black spider was sitting and put with it a praying mantis he'd just found. He said something like "They're gonna fight. Watch him kill it." I was stunned and horrified, my trusted neighbour was facilitating insect bloodsport! For fun! I screamed at the top of my lungs "I HATE YOUUUU!" and ran into the house and flopped on my bed sobbing. My mother came in and assured me he'd separated the two and that he was very sorry. I think I was made to go out and hear his apology because he felt so bad. He probably would have loved this (scroll down to the insect militia in battle).

Anyway, what brought us here is the work of Igor Siwanowicz, known for his incredible macro portraits of creatures of all kinds, through which he demonstrates a special fondness for the praying mantis. I had no idea such fascinating and brilliant species existed, we only had the green and brown kind hanging around the house. The Polish-born Siwanowicz is based in Munich where he photographs insects he acquires and breeds, in his home studio. That's commitment to one's subject. As for his love for the little guys, he told The Telegraph: "I have always been fascinated by insects even from childhood. You could say that I am sort of a public relations representative in service of creepy-crawlies. I think mantids are totally slick and sexy, and have style. I take 'weird' and 'bizarre' as positive adjectives."

In case you're wondering if Siwanowicz is doing something gross to get his shots, the answer is "no". There's no fishing line pulling those tiny claws up in the air. He explains: "Animals are very unpredictable and uncooperative, and there is almost no way to force them into collaboration. One can use tricks though - moths and butterflies are very docile freshly after hatching. Most otherwise fidgety insects can be approached early in the morning, when the temperature is low and their metabolism hasn't kicked in yet." In other words, like us before we've had our coffee.

Here are some of my favourite shots of his praying mantises, as you've never seen them before:

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A spectacular flower praying mantis - the texture captured from the wings!

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A Malaysian orchid praying mantis which I think is just exquisite (above and below)

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Mmm...flies for lunch! (Actually that's pretty gross)

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 Look at this amazing creature, the giant devil's flower mantis (above and below)

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It's easy to see that Igor's main influence is the work of the designer of the monster from the Alien films, HR Giger.

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Give us a hug? A large African praying mantis opens up to Igor in his home studio

Photos by Igor Siwanowicz

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I want to watch a Bug's Life again.

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