01 November 2009

End of October sights and colors

For two days this week, a big praying mantis sat on the south wall of the house, soaking up the last warm sunrays we'll have for a while. I believe it was a gravid female, because it had a big swollen belly. The males are smaller, anyway. She might have eaten the one she mated with — though some experts say that kind of cannibalistic behavior might be peculiar to mantises kept in captivity, and extremely rare in the wild.

Callie was interested in the mantis. She goes wild when she sees a fly or spider in the house, on a white ceiling, and this was a similar outdoor experience. The mantis didn't move, however, even when I put the camera up very close to her, or when Callie tried to sniff her. Gravid females can't fly, apparently. She was about 3 in./8 cm long.

In French, a praying mantis is called une mante religieuse. The dictionary says that expression is an etymological redundancy, because the term mante already carries within it the notion of being religious or praying. Anyway, some people in France used the name prie-Dieu, a "pray-God," for the same insect. That name seems to be Provençal in origin. The mantis's closest relatives are cockroaches and termites.

I wonder if the name "praying mantis" might have seemed especially appropriate for these creatures because you could hear it as meaning "preying mantis" — they are formidable predators and sometimes catch and eat reptiles, birds, and even small mammals.

She got a good look at me and the camera lens.

I have also wondered why I only ever see mantises in the fall. Now I know: I just read that that's the mating season. A similar one perched on the same wall a year or two ago at this time of year, probably trying to warm itself. Maybe they like living, hunting, and laying their eggs in the mille-pertuis, the stand of St-John's Wort, that thrives at the base of that wall. It stays green all winter, and is in full sun.

The forelegs of a praying mantis, the ones it catches its prey with, are called « ravisseuses » in French, or "raptorial legs" in English. I like the French term. The verb ravir means "to kidnap" and a ravisseur is a "kidnaper." Why do some people spell that with one P, I wonder? I guess that's the proper form, instead of the popular one. French has adopted the term, and the common spelling is kidnappeur. The praying mantis kidnaps, or ambushes, its prey.

Table grapes in the vineyard

Oh well. See that bunch of grapes just above? I noticed it hanging from vines that grow up onto the walls of the maison de vigneron, the grape-growers' shed, out on the gravel road that runs through the Renaudière vineyards. Do you see the biggest, fattest grape right in the middle of the bunch — the large blue one? I ate that one yesterday morning after taking the picture.

This morning I just went ahead and picked the whole bunch, and the bunch next to it. I'll eat them over the next couple of days. They are table grapes. Like apples and plums, in a good year there are far too many grapes here in Saint-Aignan. Many of them go to waste.

More fall color at La Renaudière

Finally, a picture of the log pile out front. The maple trees out there are really dropping leaves now. I raked up a large quantity of them yesterday afternoon and hauled them out back to spread on a garden plot that I tilled up a day or two ago. It felt good to be productive. We are supposed to have a good bit of rain this afternoon, so I'm glad I did the work yesterday.


  1. Autumn has been particularly beautiful this year. You've taken some lovely pictures.
    Today is Toussaint and it's raining.
    So here's to our upcoming winter.

  2. Watch out, Ken- you're apt to make Walt homesick with so many good pictures of home.

    I love those grapes- I'm glad you'll be enjoying them.
    I guess my middle name must be Thomas, but I can't imagine a preying mantis capturing a bird;-)

    The best time to collect insects is in the fall. I don't know why, but the spiders seem to be extra busy making webs in the fall also.

  3. Oooh. That orange-leaf tree is just too beautiful to ignore, so I've made it my new desktop picture!


  4. According to dictionary.com, kidnap(p)er can be spelled either way.


What's on your mind? Qu'avez-vous à me dire ?