Miraculous Mantids

I work on Saturdays, so today was just an average work day for me.  I opened the field station, unlocked the bathrooms, and fed the birds before gathering the things I needed for my weekly public citizen science walk.  Many of my volunteers come on Saturdays, so I typically have a good stream of them coming in and out of my office all morning.  I chat with them for a bit, then hand them a clipboard and send them off to collect data of various types.

This morning, one of my volunteers came in and took a seat as he waited for his data collection teammate to arrive.  He looked down at the desk, pointed, and said, “Is that a mantis?”  And sure enough, it was!

Chinese mantid

Chinese mantid

I was surprised to see a mantid in the office at all, but this was a small mantid with the fresh look of a recently hatched baby mantid.  I told my volunteer to look for more and, between my desk and the one next to mine, we found about 15 or 20 of them.  That could only mean one thing: there was a mantid egg case somewhere in my office, and it had recently hatched.

My second volunteer arrived and they both went out to collect data as I started searching for the case.  One of my office mates is an entomologist and the primary K-12 educator at the field station, so she often brings things in like egg cases that she’s going to use for upcoming programs.  But there was no mantid egg case on her desk.  I knew I hadn’t brought one in, so it wasn’t going to be on my desk.  That left one desk and my heart fell a bit: no mantid egg case anywhere!  I was just about to go look in the other two rooms of the lovely construction trailer that we work in when I caught something out of the corner of my eye.  It was this:

Charred Chinese mantid egg case

Charred Chinese mantid egg case

The annual controlled burn of the prairie took place earlier this month.  One of my coworkers had noted how many mantid egg cases were in the field and she mobilized her volunteers to clip off as many as they could before the burn took place.  They didn’t get all of them, however. The charcoaled egg case above was discovered after the burn went through.  The woman who sits next to me had brought it in and displayed it in a vase on her desk.

When I noticed the blackened egg case, I thought, “No…  Surely that can’t be it!”  But there was this little nagging feeling in the back of my mind that said I should take a closer look.  When I did, I saw a mantid wiggling its way out of the case! There were also telltale stringy bits coming out of the front seam. The eggs in that egg case, which we had all assumed had been charred to a crisp, was HATCHING!  And there were a surprising number for an egg case that left ashy dust on your hands and crumbled apart when you handled it.

And that’s one of many things I learned at work today, that mantid eggs cases are WAY more protective of the eggs inside than I had ever thought!  That egg case looked hopeless, absolutely beyond hope, yet it still produced new life.  I caught as many mantids as I could get my hands on and released them outside.  The last I saw of the last one I released was this, a momentary pause before it dashed off into the depths of the tree and disappeared:

Chinese mantid

Chinese mantid

Nature is so cool.  You could go out every day and see as many things as you possibly could and never even scratch the surface of what’s possible.

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth.

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