Baby Mantids!

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:

mantid egg case

Mantid egg case (taken with iPhone)

… on this mesquite tree:

acacia

Screwbean mesquite

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:

Mantid egg case

Mantid egg case with holes where parasitic wasps emerged

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:

Mantid

Mantid

Mantid

Mantid

Mantid

Mantid

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?

Mantid

Mantid

Cute, cute, cute:

Mantid

Mantid

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!)

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth.
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38 thoughts on “Baby Mantids!

  1. Those baby mantids are extremely cute. The closest insect I have seen around here, that resembles them a bit, is the stick insect. I have held them and played with them, but I have never seen a mantid, except in photos. I guess they don’t grow around here. I wonder, can you hold them? Do they bite?

    • Yes, you can hold them and while I’m sure they can bite (they’re predators after all!), I’ve never heard of anyone being bitten. I’ve never worried about it! And you should have mantids in your area! They can be really hard to find though because they blend into their environment REALLY well. Keep looking – you’ll probably find one eventually!

      • Well, maybe since they mimic their surroundings so well, that’s why I haven’t been able to see one! I’d love to though. At least I know where to find stick insects because I know the leaves they like eating. I’ll have to check on the Puerto Rican mantis then, thanks!

  2. It looks like the European Mantis (Mantis religiosa) that we get here in Ottawa, but I can’t say for sure! They are such fabulous insects to watch. You’re lucky to have them in your garden. And the little ones are so cute!

  3. I want to click LIKE a hundred times, they are the cutest thing! I sometimes see the egg cases but leave them be because I am not sure what to do with them. Is there anything special you have to do while they are cooking away or is just leaving them alone the best thing to do? I would love to hatch some out with the kids.

    • I have only done it a few times, but so far as I can tell you just let them sit. I did bring mine in when it was warming up outside (i.e. after winter, not before) and I’ve heard that they need some cold weather to successfully complete development. If you’re really worried about doing it properly, why not get some mantid egg cases from a plant nursery? Many of them sell egg cases for biological pest control and you wouldn’t need to worry so much about doing things right because they should be ready to go and likely to be successful when you buy them. Most nurseries recommend that you hatch the mantids out into a paper bag and then release them in your garden so the technique is incredibly simple. Just put the case(s) in some sort of container that they can’t get out of if you want to see the babies, and then it’s all a matter of being patient and waiting for them to crawl out. I never did it as a kid, but I would have LOVED seeing mantids hatch!

  4. I love them. It is amazing what Mother Nature can do. I pinned one of your pictures on Pinterest. Thanks, Rhonda Mills

  5. That is so adorable!!!! I have a case, too, that a friend found. I’m waiting to see if any tiny friends will emerge. :0)

  6. I’ve known 2 people who’ve been bitten by fully grown mantes while gardening. Sounded as painful as being stung by a cow-killer!

    We’re waiting on our 2 captive cases and one in a bush we know of to hatch- hopefully some mantids will be content to haunt our garden this summer :)

    • They ARE predators, which makes them capable of biting. They just tend not to. However, if you accidentally grab one roughly, say while gardening, and startle it, I’m sure they’re more inclined to bite to protect themselves than when they’re being handled gently. I’ve never been bitten and I’ve handled a lot of mantids, but I’m also rarely in the types of situation where I might grab one without intending to. Good to know it hurts so I can avoid it!

  7. Tell the judge you’re taking care of a kitload of baby mantises. What are you supposed to do, take their terrarium into the court with you? No, they’ll have to let you out of jury duty!

  8. These are absolutely fantastic! I would love to see these things hatching, they are so cute. I kept some green dock leaf beetles (Gastrophysa viridula) and watched them lay eggs, then watched the larvae grow into adults. They were great, but I’d take your little guys over them! I don’t think wild mantids are easy to come by in the UK though…

    Jamie

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