Another Andalusian pet joins our family – Meet Leopoldo, the jasmine lover

Moving from a cosmopolitan city in Canada to a rural town in Andalucía, our plan was always to simplify our life. We wanted a smaller home that we could lock and leave when going travelling. For the same reason, we didn’t want a big garden. And, we would under no circumstances get a pet! Not that we disliked them, we just liked our ability to globetrot more.

Even before coming to Spain, we had been warned by foreigners living here, who would assure us that we would adopt a dog within the first few months. Basically all foreigners did, they said. As there are tons of abandoned, homeless pets all over Andalucía, foreigner residents with their bleeding hearts tend to be the ones who end up taking in these unwanted animals. Alternately, they will walk around with pet food and dinner leftover in their handbags to feed perpetually pregnant alley cats. We, however, would do nothing of the kind. Not that we were completely heartless, I just can’t live in close proximity to cat hair and dog fur without scratching my eyes out.

We managed to stay to the program when it came to both the house and the garden. However, when it came to the pets, things started sliding. First we got ourselves a resident lizard. This was sort of a natural development, as the fixer-upper home we bought came with a tailless Podarcis vaucheri. As we discovered that cats love to torture these Andalusian mini-reptiles, we felt that somebody had to protect them. Next to move in with us were a family of geckos (Tarentola mauritanica); Umberto Major the Pater Familia, his wife Umberto Minor, as well as Umberto Mini, their prodigal son who likes to come into our bedroom at night to hunt for microscopic bugs. We thought for sure that this would be the end of our pet emporium, but then came Leopoldo…

We first noticed him on our upper terrace at the beginning of the summer. He was quite young and inexperienced at the time, not yet having found his preferred stomping ground. As the temperature rose by the day, he moved down to our lower terrace. There, he not only got more shade, but he fell in love with our jasmine bush. He settled in the upper branches and has lived there happily ever since. The jasmine is a perfect habitat for Leopoldo, seeing that his light brown bony body can easily resemble one of the plants curled up dead leaves or a spent blooms. He is safer from birds and bigger predators, while he can gorge himself on insects that live on the plant. It is indeed a win/win situation for him. As an added benefit, his home is also located right beside the Umbertos, who for the past couple of years have taken up residence behind a set of antique doors that we have mounted on our terrace wall. Therefore, Leopoldo also gets to munch on the rejected bugs that are not up to our reptiles’ standard or size requirement.

I forgot to say that Leopoldo is a praying mantis. Named because of its prayer like stand, mantis is the Greek word for prophet, and in an alien ET sort of way they look rather mystic. Usually green, yellow or brown, their coloration will not change with their natural environment. The mantis must therefore find a setting that matches their appearance, just like Leopoldo’s jasmine. The mantises are brilliant hunters and can sit there camouflaged immobile for hours waiting for a prey to show up. In fact, their ferocious appetite for bugs was what made the conquerors of the New World bring the European Mantis to North America in the 1600’s, so they would help them combat insect pests on crops. Using their antennae to smell the pray, their triangular heads with bulbous eyes will watch out for danger, with a field of vision of up to 20 meters. Not shabby for a bug that measures a few centimetres. And here I was thinking that I could sneak unnoticed up to our new family member…

In contrast to our other pets, Leopoldo is not shy. While I have to struggle to get even a blurry ‘action’ shot of the Umbertos, our mantis doesn’t mind being admired or photographed. He will cock his head and stare at me inquiringly. Sometimes, he gets a bit impatient and throws me a glance as if to say, “Oh, not you again…” Genealogically speaking, Leopoldo’s closest relative is a cockroach, but of course our lad is much better looking! I am calling him ‘he’, but we do not really know what ‘he’ is. The female mantis is said to be generally bigger and more butch than the male, sometimes devouring her offspring and uncooperative male partners. Or so I have read, as I am no scientist and only have my limited terrace observations to speak of.

Having studied Leopoldo up close and personal, he appears to be more of an African Mantis (Sphodromantis viridis) than a European one (Mantis Religiosa), which isn’t strange seeing our proximity to Northern Africa, but there are at least a dozen types of mantis in Spain. Whichever type he is, Leopoldo is decidedly more of a fighter than a lover. He is certainly not one for prayers, always with his frontal paws (or raptorial legs) up, ready to jab. Mantises will eat just about anything that moves, with the emphasis on the moving bit. Since they only consume living, and I imagine struggling, prey, I am fine not having witnessed this particular exploit of his.

The benefit of having a self-providing pet is evident – No worry about pet sitters and feeding when away. Yet, the backside of having these free-roaming critters as wild pets is their limited life span. We will only be able to enjoy the company of Leopoldo until some time this winter, as mantises live no longer than a year. Therefore, we can only hope that his offspring will continue the family lineage, so we can have a Leopoldo Jr with us next summer.

For the time being, this is our extended family. We are perfectly happy with our current pet repertoire and have no plans of expanding upon it. Though, if a family of disgruntled bats will descend upon our terrace, lets say on a late evening around Halloween, I have a feeling that we will adopt them, as well…