I had a really horrible day last Friday. Nothing was going right and pretty much everything I attempted to do that day – taking photos, working, cooking, anything! – failed miserably. To top it all off, I got yet another jury summons, the 5th one in the past 6 year, and I hate jury duty. The best part of that otherwise awful day where nothing worked was something I posted to my Facebook page: my mantids hatched! Today I’m going to share the mantid love with you all because I couldn’t have been more delighted.
The story starts on February 7, 2012, when I found this mantid egg case:
… on this mesquite tree:
Mantids lay their eggs in a foamy liquid that hardens around them to form a sort of protective shell. The mantids develop inside and then make their way out of the case when they hatch. It had been a long time since I’d hatched mantids from an egg case and I wasn’t sure what kind of mantid this case belonged to anyway, so I decided to take it home with me. I placed it in a little plastic aquarium with a paper towel over the top to keep the mantids inside if they hatched and set the whole thing on the bookcase where my roaches live. Every time I walked past the bookcase, I’d look inside the mantid cage to see if they’d hatched yet. The anticipation was enormous!
Nothing happened for a month, but then one day I looked in and saw something that made my heart sink – a little black wasp. It had crazy hind legs and long, slightly clubbed antennae with a long ovipositor (likely from the genus Podagrion). Parasites! Mantid egg cases are often attacked by parasitic wasps. The females lay their eggs inside the mantid egg cases, using that long ovipositor to reach down into the interior of the case. The developing wasps hatch quickly and eat the mantids. I was lucky to see the wasp (and I only did because I put that paper towel over the top to keep everything contained inside), but even if I hadn’t, these little holes in the side of the case were a dead giveaway:
I was pretty sure my mantids were toast, that the parasites had eaten them all and there would be no mantids hatching from the egg case I had so carefully housed and observed. Over the next week or two, several more wasps emerged, dashing my hope a little more each time I saw a new one. I kept the case, just in case there was anything left alive inside, but I had little hope that anything was ever going to emerge.
Then Friday, that really awful day, I happened to catch a tiny movement out of the corner of my eye as I headed into my kitchen: a mantid was squeezing its way out of the egg case! And there were 10 other little mantids in the cage already! Success! My mantids were hatching, in spite of the parasitic wasps. I ran to get my camera, but by the time I got the flashes attached and was ready to go it was already done hatching. But there were 11 of these little guys in the cage:
I never did catch another one emerging from the case, but by the end of the day I had 14 mantids. I counted again yesterday morning and had 25. As of this morning, there were 43! Each is the bright green you see above with the abdomen curled up. They’re tiny, perfect little mantids about a half centimeter long. And they have such great little personalities too! They try to attack my finger, attack my camera lenses, jump a little every time the flashes go off. They stand on top of things and sway back and forth, a movement thought to mimic leaves blowing in the wind, just like the adults. Really, is there anything more adorable than a tiny mantid?
Cute, cute, cute:
I will likely release most of these back onto the tree where I collected the case so they can live out their lives, however long that may be, free and in the wild. I’m thinking of keeping a half-dozen or so to grow into adults though. I’ve seen first instar (i.e. baby) mantids and I’ve seen adults, but I’ve rarely seen anything in between. I’ve never observed the changes that they undergo throughout their lives either, so I’m excited to see how they grow and change over time. Should be a fun new insect adventure!
(Does anyone happen to know what these are? I haven’t tried to ID them yet and I have a mantid guy to ask, but I thought I’d see if any of you know what they are too!)