"She's on your foot! She's on your foot! Don't move or you'll squish her," I yelled to my oldest son yesterday. A praying mantis was climbing up onto his shoe, and, fearful that he might dislodge and squish the enormous insect, I told him to remain still. The mantis climbed down, and we watched her for the next five minutes. It was about six in the evening on October 12th, and the sun was orange with its rays extended horizontally through warm evening air.
The mantis was exposed. She sat in the mowed grass and would have been an easy meal for many a chordate. Her location inspired me to attempt to feed her. My kids and I caught a grasshopper and tossed it into the immediate field of the mantis' vision. The mantis saw the movement. She began to sway like a twig in the breeze. The grasshopper froze. I took a narrow twig and prodded the grasshopper into movement, and she moved just enough to remain in the mantis' sights. The mantis coupled her praying arms together, held close to her abdomen. Suddenly the grasshopper was held in her death grasp; she had caught her next meal.
It was a somewhat gruesome sight. The mantis began to eat the grasshopper immediately, tearing off and out large portions of the still squirming, still moving, still living prey. The grasshopper resisted for the next two minutes as the mantis grasped her in an unforgiving clench—ripping off pieces, each tear a step closer to the grasshopper's death. On two occasions the mantis looked away from her prey and stopped eating to investigate a nearby movement. I told the kids to remain still because a distracted mantis will readily drop a half-eaten, though quite alive, prey if she spies another food opportunity.
When I kept a mantis captive for a few weeks in the Fall of 2005, I was rather disturbed by its wastefulness. If more prey options were in sight, it wouldn't finish eating one insect at a time. Instead, it would capture a cricket, take a few bites, drop it, and capture another cricket to repeat the process. This would continue until there were up to a dozen crickets squirming on the bottom of her terrarium. With large portions of their midsections gone, the crickets would hang on to life for anywhere from a few hours to a day. Some would get up and walk; others would slowly move their legs or merely display life through the metabolic moving of their abdomen.
Ferocious and wasteful creatures these mantids are. As we were hunched over the mantis, I rehearsed how the mantis was incongruent with the Young-Earth Creationist model of a deathless world before the Fall. In the Young- Earth Creationist (YEC) pre-Fall world, there was no death; hence, the mechanisms of predation and defense would be superfluous. The mantis defies YEC incorporation. She displays superior predation adaptations through her developed, flesh-tearing jaws; abilities to mimic a swaying branch to avoid detection of her predatory advances; strong, large front legs for catch and grasping prey. Additionally, she is equipped with leaf-like wings and twig-like legs that prevent her from becoming someone else's meal. What functions would these adaptations play in a deathless world?
Paul tells the Romans that God's "everlasting power and divine nature" are manifest in God's creation. As a non-theist, I experience a sense of humility, awe, and grandeur when I fellowship with the mantis. However, I scarcely see the manifestation of a benevolent deity in her death grasp and wanton wastefulness, nor do I see a creature consistent with the predictions of Young-Earth Creationism. What benefit would large death claws have for the vegetarian mantis? I see the workings of natural selection and millions of years of specific refinements in the mantis. I do not see God. Paul was wrong.