Grievous is dead

Grievous was a Springbok praying mantis. He belonged to my son. It was his first pet.

From his earliest years my son has been fascinated by the natural world. He would spend hours crouched over the garden pond studying the behaviour of the insects and amphibians that lived there. I encouraged this interest as I deemed it healthy. Inevitably though, he developed an interest in the more exotic and one particular insect became the focus of his attention – the praying mantis.

He discovered that such creatures were regularly sold in pet shops and he asked if he could buy one to look after.

Now I have strong views about the keeping of pets and I explained them to my son; the creatures are caged prisoners, taken out of their natural habitat and forced into an environment which they find stressful. How would he like it if someone took him out of his natural home and kept him locked up in a basket strung from a tall tree that grew in a desert? He said he would not like it but it was obvious from his expression that the concept was too abstract for him to fully grasp and he persisted in his requests for a pet.

Eventually, when we thought he might be becoming more aware of the concept of responsibility, we relented to a certain extent and let him keep aquatic Sea Monkeys. We impressed upon him that it was his responsibility to feed them regularly but within days his mother’s resolve of non-interference had cracked and she was the one looking after them. This incident however served as a good excuse for a couple of years as to why we couldn’t trust him to look after a pet.

On his tenth birthday he convinced his mother that he was now responsible enough to look after a praying mantis. I was not convinced and even if I were, I still had my principles preventing me from acquiescing to his wishes. But then I thought it might provide a valuable lesson for him and I relented.

A trip to the pet shop was organised last November and a tiny, fragile mantis was chosen (actually it was the only one they had). The clear plastic cup stuffed with a bit of tissue paper was deemed unworthy by my son as a suitable abode, – despite the shop assistants reassurances, and a whole catalogue of equipment had to be bought including a heat mat. Then there was the question of what to feed the Mantis. They eat insects of course, live ones, so five black crickets were also purchased. Then we went home with one happy boy in the back seat of the car. It was to be the happiest moment he experienced with that insect. He named him Grievous.

To be fair to the boy, he had done his research and he knew how the mantis should be looked after. Jungle litter was placed at the bottom of the tank and plastic foliage laid on top. Water was then sprayed in a gentle mist into the tank to raise the humidity. He had also learned that it should eat one cricket every two days or thereabouts. This is where the trouble started.

Transferring the cricket from its holding cell into the feeding container (apparently it was not wise to let the crickets run free in the tank with Grievous) was a major undertaking. Crickets are fast moving insects and we had to get one out of a container holding five. How was that to be done?

Fortunately I had a computer tool that was meant to retrieve dropped screws from the bottom of tight fitting chassis. It had three metal ‘legs’ that were sprung loaded and which came together when they were retracted into the pen like body. This was used to grab the cricket and drop it into the feeding container where Grievous was already waiting. Now this sounds like one of those instructions out of a car manual that sounds straightforward enough – ‘remove the screws’ kind of thing. But as everyone knows, the actual execution of that instruction is a journey into hell due to rusted screws with worn slots etc. And so it was with trying to capture the cricket without killing it and without dropping it onto the floor during the transfer. Needless to say, I was required to complete this nerve racking operation. It was like trying to defuse a bomb but eventually I managed it. Then we waited for Grievous to eat the cricket. Then we waited some more. Eventually the cricket started to charge at Grievous and my son said Grievous had to be rescued. Apparently, the crickets can chew off the leg of a Mantis if the Mantis is not interested in feeding.

In the process of trying to return the cricket to its usual confinement it got dropped onto the bedroom floor from where it subsequently vanished into the landfill of toys and books that were scattered everywhere (a normal state of untidiness for my son).

From then on, each feeding attempt was a stressful saga which took its toll on the whole family. I would hear shrieks of alarm from both my son and my wife before I was called to the rescue. For some reason Grievous had little interest in feeding and my son was distraught with worry. Crickets of a smaller size were bought to see if that helped any. It didn’t, so they were chopped up into neat little parcels and offered to Grievous with a pair of tweezers. Grievous simply turned his head at them (a full 360 degrees – the only insects able to do this so my son tells me). Unfortunately the crickets came in packs of twenty and my son’s bedroom started to look more and more like an infestation waiting to happen. Eventually, after several days of abstinence, instinct took over and Grievous snatched the cricket we had imprisoned with him and he commenced to devour it much to everyone’s relief.

Here was the curious thing I noticed. My son loved Grievous. It tortured him to think that he might be suffering in any way. And yet Grievous was an insect just like the crickets; why should his affections be manipulated in this way? Presumably his interest could have been with the crickets and he would have pampered some exotic cricket as much as he did Grievous. But here, one was a loved pet, the other merely food. Can we extrapolate from this? Can humans love one tribe but consider another tribe, equally deserving, as merely slaves? Of course they can.

Anyway, Grievous failed to conform to all the recommendations we had read about his supposed eating habits and despite all our best efforts, after a couple of heartbreaking months it was apparent that he was dying. My son kept a vigil over his slowly sinking body and cried relentlessly. It took three days for Grievous to die.

We buried him in the garden yesterday. I asked my son what he had learnt. He said he would never own another pet again, that creatures belong in their natural habitat and that in future he would simply support attempts to preserve their habitat.

I was a proud father that day.

2 Responses to “Grievous is dead”

  1. Aalo says:

    Why did he call him Grievous?

  2. Ivor Tymchak says:

    There is a Star Wars character called General Grievous apparently.

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