Will you have to pay $50 if you kill a praying mantis?  Scheir answers examines this question in depth in her weekly parenting column.


    If you are or ever have been a little kid, then you’ve probably heard that if you kill a praying mantis and you’re found out, then you’ll have to cough up $50 from your piggy bank and hand it over to the nice man with the badge. You might even spend some time in the clink.

    Or will you?

    This was the question du jour around my breakfast table this morning, discussed as heatedly as it had been around the playground slide way back in my kindergarten days. My family’s consideration of the subject was precipitated, I think, by a “get a load of this” style article that I’d read in a magazine.

    Apparently, traffic cops in Langney, England have been stopping cars to allow safe passage for a wild swan family whose street roaming is protected under a 432-year-old British law. As it turns out, all wild swans are owned by Her Majesty, thereby exempting them from being grabbed and relocated somewhere out of the way of the lorries and double-decker buses. 

    In other words, you’d better make way for cygnets: it’s the law.

    This special favor for swans got my son thinking about the age-old praying mantis warning normally issued with great fervor by 10-year-old boys to their insect limb detaching, 10-year-old counterparts. 

    Determined to settle the matter, I went to online urban legend de-bunker Snopes.com for an answer. According to Snopes, there has never been any federal or state law prohibiting mantis whacking. Another web truth-hound posts elsewhere that mantis killing is legal, even in Connecticut, where the praying mantis is the state insect. 

    Why the myth? Some suggest it may derive from a simple superstition against killing a critter who looks like he’s praying. I mean, even Michael Corleone waited until the baptism was over before he took out a hit on his brother-in-law. 

    Don’t be fooled, though. Praying mantises may look all thoughtful, pious, and cleric-like with their stick-thin exterior and uncomfortably buggy yet pupil-less (yes, pupil-less) eyes. In reality, though, they are cold-blooded cannibals. Try to breed them, and your female may just prefer eating her boyfriend to snuggling up with him. 
So much for a nice dinner date. 

    Despite these mate-gobbling tendencies, I’m certainly not advocating snuffing out the praying mantis population. True or not, the legend has worked, discouraging unnecessary mantis murders all over the U.S. 

    While we’re on the subject of unnecessary animal cruelty, I must tell you that the other day, while at the beach on vacation, I was a little disturbed by two kids who were catching crabs a little bit down the pier from me. They caught one that was (a) too small and (b) missing its claws. They showed him around to the rest of us amateurs, and we all felt sympathy for Crabby’s crippling loss. Mercifully, one of the kids threw him back in the bay so he could grow up and make something out of his clawless existence. 

    I was truly touched by this … until I heard the other kid say, “So, when you threw him back in, did you try to skip him?”