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.

More Insect Haikus (Friday 5)

The insect activity was a bit sparse this week, in spite of some lovely warm days and some exciting things that happened.  Because there are so few insects to report, I’m going to share some haikus of recent insect and insect-related observations I’ve made over the past few weeks.  Hope you enjoy them!

Ode to the Fall Cankerworm

Female cankerworm

Wingless cankerworm
crawling up a maple tree,
lays her eggs while cold.

If you’ve followed my blog recently, you’ve already read about the fall cankerworms I’ve watched recently.  They disappeared from their usual spot for a couple of weeks during some very cold weather and an ice storm, but they’ve come back!  I was more excited about that than I probably should have been…

Burning the Prairie

Prairie burn

Snap crackle and pop,
winter prairie fire burns, 
insects flee the flames.

The natural resources guy at the field station leads a controlled burn of a third of the prairie every winter as part of the prairie maintenance, and it took place yesterday.  It’s always exciting to watch, but for the first time I noticed a lot of insects out and about near the burn area, some of which had clearly been roaming around in the ashes.  Made me think that the rabbits, cotton rats, and mice aren’t the only things that flee as the fire advances!  Interesting to see so many insects roaming around after the burn.

Stuff of Insect Nightmares

Brown headed nuthatch

Tap tap tap it goes,
the nuthatch looks for a treat,
insect under bark.

I’ve fallen in love with brown-headed nuthatches recently!  They’re adorable and it’s fun to watch them breaking off pieces of bark to get to the tasty insects hidden underneath.  They’re rather resourceful little birds!

Wasps in Winter

Wasp nest

Huge paper wasp nest,
high up in a winter tree.
Glad it’s cold today!

I got to go on a fantastically fun trip with a bunch of other environmental educators to the Pungo Unit of Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge last weekend.  It’s an overwintering site for tens of thousands of tundra swans, snow geese, and red-winged blackbirds, and you can see flocks of 30,000-40,000 birds.  It’s absolutely and indescribably amazing!  But, I got excited about a few insect sightings as well.  I’m going to write about one of them in a longer blog post sometime soon, but one of the other women on the trip noticed the awesome wasp in the photo high in a tree.  It was truly massive, so I think both of us were actually just fine with being cold at that moment as it meant we weren’t going to be inundated by angry wasps while we milled around under their beautiful nest.

The Birds

Red winged blackbirds

The red-winged blackbirds
flying over winter fields
look like clouds of gnats.

I couldn’t resist throwing in this haiku about the red-winged blackbirds, even though it just alludes to insects.  There were just SO many of them at Pungo!  If any of you ever make it out to eastern North Carolina in the winter, it’s well worth a visit to Pungo or nearby Lake Mattamuskeet to see the birds.  The photo doesn’t give you a good sense of what it feels like to have several thousand birds swirling around in a huge mass in front of you only to have the entire flock fly right over your head only 10 feet above you.  It was like a black wall that was about to engulf you, but it swerved upward at the last moment and disappeared over the trees.  It was magical!

It’s winter, but there’s always great stuff to see outside and I’ve really been enjoying exploring recently.  Anyone want to take a stab at a winter themed haiku?  Pick any topic of your choice, so long as it focuses on winter.  Would love to read anything you come up with, so leave poems in the comments!

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

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Sampling Sabino Canyon Post-Fire

You probably all know that there have been several very large fires in Arizona this summer.  Ever wonder what a mountain stream looks like after a forest fire?  Here’s an example from Sabino Canyon in Tucson, AZ after the Aspen Fire a few years back:

Sabino storm

Sabino Canyon after the Aspen Fire. Photo by Dave Walker.

Notice how the water is black?  It was full of ash from the fire that had been washed downstream during the monsoons.  The water even smelled like a campfire!  And what I’m doing in this photo, sampling in the stream downstream of a major burn area as a monsoon storm rolls in – that’s dangerous and you shouldn’t do it.  Made for an awfully pretty photo though!

(Just so there’s no confusion, I’m collecting bugs in that photo, NOT spearing fish.  Everyone seems to think I’m spearing fish when they see this…)

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © TheDragonflyWoman.com