Tuesday, June 22, 2010

New Babies on the Farm

Yesterday I was jolted from a mid afternoon nap by excited shrieks. "Mom! Mom! Come quick! They've hatched!"

I ran through the long list of animals we own and racked my brain to figure out which one could have possibly laid an egg in the last twenty minutes. Then I remembered.

Here at the farm we appreciate the unusual. We have a resident insect specialist who tends to broody spiders in the bushes and ensures that ant colonies thrive and, more importantly, survive thorough waterings when they build too close to the tomatoes. So when we were on a trip to Wolf Hill Garden Center a month ago and noticed a small cardboard cup on the counter labeled "Praying Mantids," we had to snatch them up. We brought them home for our oldest boy Percy to mother over.

The egg casings, called ootheca, are odd looking; brown and crunchy. The sacs are adhered to a stick by some bizarre substance that only a mother praying mantis could produce. The instructions said to hide the egg sack in a bush, but Percy needed to watch over them. He lovingly placed them in one of our many bug houses and laid soft material in the bottom for safety.

When I reached Percy on the porch, baby praying mantises were everywhere. And they were tiny. Percy gently scooped up a few at a time and found new homes for them all around the garden.

So while the yard is teeming with baby mantises, it seems that we have added a new addition to our zoo. Inspired by the book Pet Bugs by Sally Kneidel, Percy has decided that "Blade" will be an excellent new pet.

Praying mantis facts:

Praying mantises are the only insects that can turn their heads a full 180 degrees.

They can see up to 60 feet away.

Nymphs eat flies, aphids, moths and other insects. A large adult of some species can eat frogs, lizards and even small birds or rodents.

Contrary to popular belief, females do not always kill the male after mating. The post coitus decapitation and cannibalism occurs more commonly in captivity than in the wild.

For interesting reading, check out Sally Kneidel's blog. She writes about green living, ecological travel, and, our favorite, insects and scientific method for kids.