Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Surprise Houseguest

Last Monday night I found a praying mantis in my study. I took some pictures; I left it for a bit. When I returned, it had done some exploring and was up in the plastic wrapping surrounding a keyboard propped by the wall. This was vastly interesting to the kitten, who had to be exiled from the room. I then determined that I did not want the mantis getting lost and/or suffocating in there, and so I convinced it to back its way out. Eventually it came out the bottom, and it took wing and flew hastily across the room, banging en route into the 10-y-o cat, who was like, "I'm sorry, what?"

And then it returned to the window. The window was propped open, which means there's a gap between the panes. So I got it onto my hand, opened the screen, and sent it out into the night. It promptly climbed back in.

The next morning, after checking for it, I wrote this little song:
I have a praying mantis
It came in through a crack
I tried to let it go,
but now it keeps on coming back.
(Mantis, mantis, mantis...)

Anyway. It stayed for a week. I never saw it catch any food, but I learned some stuff:

1) It grooms itself like a cat! (You may want to enlarge these to see this.)

2) Its wings look cool!

3) It drank water from my hand! (At least, I think it drank. I was holding the [film canister] cap of water over my head, so I couldn't really see. But it did examine the cap and bend its head down into it. And it seemed surprised when I pulled away. And its abdomen looked less shrunken.) It's not drinking here, but this is the cap.

And now, after exactly a week, it seems to have gone. I haven't seen it at all today. I'm glad to think of it out in the garden, for I didn't want it to die in here (either from lack of food/water or even because it's at the end of its life span, because I wouldn't know which), and I'd been kind of concerned at how still it had been much of the past three days. But I miss seeing it every day and checking on it, and having it turn its head to look at me when I approach.

And I've just been bitten up by an annoying mosquito. Maybe it was eating after all!


Two weeks ago I beheld the following on a bean vine. I was confused and startled by the sheer number of legs, and first I thought it was dead, but I blew toward it and some of the legs waved. And then I finally parsed the image as a praying mantis going through (presumably) final molt. Look at how much it's changed in size!

Underside view:

Back view:

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Do You Know My Name?

I am looking for some help in identifying some things. Any ideas?

1) Orange Daisy Plant

This plant is very exciting. It's clearly in the Compositae family (daisies, which have composite flowers), it's six feet tall, and it's growing in our back yard. I haven't found anything online that matches, although "orange daisy" is getting me a lot more useful images than when I was using "composite". Go figure...

2) Small Loud Bird

This bird has a loud raspy call (along with a more innocuous one). There have been two of them hanging out on our balcony or our neighbors', hopping from plant to plant and sometimes having a dust bath in a disused planter. May have a nest in the gutter next door. I keep thinking "wren" but don't see it in our bird identification books. (Note: once again, clicking on the photos will magnify them.)

Edit: The ledge on which the bird is standing is 3" long on top and 3.5" on the bottom. The post top next to it (which looks like a brick) is 1.5" tall.

3) Weird White Stuff

This stuff appeared some months ago on a small tree along the side of our house. I tried to cut off the branches and leaves that were occupied; got a lot off but certainly not all of it. Then much more recently after a big rain made our hydrangea's branches sag, I saw them again. I think they've changed, as though maybe something hatched from them...? Or maybe they're fungal.

4) Disturbing Vegetable Bug

This looks like a small stink bug with stripes on its legs and antennae. They're everywhere! Sunflowers, green beans, asparagus, peppers... Not sure about the tomatoes. Don't know whether they're connected to item 3.

5) Fascinating Other Plant

This is just something I saw while walking around the neighborhood. It's cool! I've never seen it before.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Life Cycles

Last September, I was out in the garden and came upon the above Thing attached to our bean plants. I was alarmed and suspicious -- what kind of weird fungal thing was this invading our garden and growing on our plants? But I am nothing if not cautious, so I decided to wait until I had gotten another opinion on it before removing and disposing of it.

Then some time went by.

A few days later, I noticed a praying mantis on the wires of the compost bin. As I got closer, I saw that its belly was distended, as if it was pregnant. I was puzzled: do praying mantises get pregnant? What does that mean for an insect? I ran upstairs to check online, but first I took some pictures. Here's one:

Among the links I found online were a fact sheet and a series of photos of the praying mantis life cycle. I learned that the pregnant female was likely to lay her eggs and then die a few weeks later. It feels very strange (even though it follows the pattern I learned at an early age from Charlotte's Web) to think that the mantids all die off and then there are none (at least in the immediate area) until the eggs hatch in the spring. Gave me a sense of concern and solicitude, fueling a plan to keep watch on the Thing that I had, unexpectedly, now identified as a praying mantis egg sac.

So my freaky frothy fungus had now transformed into a magical time capsule, and over the winter I kept watch over it and the five others I found soon afterward. (Checks became routine: one on the sage, two on the beans, one on the yellow rosebush, one on the rue. Eventually one more on the vines overhanging the path.) I was very careful about how we pruned the roses and vines and eventually the rue.

At some point I found this early blog following a set of mantid egg cases in a terrarium. Gave me some idea of what to expect, but since it was indoors, I still didn't know when to expect hatching. I had seen one photo caption that said "This one hatched early, in October." More recently I found something that said there should be several weeks of warm weather in a row. I was very excited to see them, not just because I wanted to be sure they made it through the winter, but also because I wanted to see how small they'd be when they first emerged.

I wasn't particularly expecting them to arrive in the rain, though.

But I went out in the rain just to see the garden, at the very end of April, and I noticed something odd about one of the cases when I did my cursory check. So I looked more closely and there indeed was my waiting rewarded.

And I took lots of pictures. These five are the least blurry (and they look very cool enlarged, if you click on them). I haven't seen the mantises since, nor can I tell for certain whether the other cases have hatched -- they don't change much, and that bit hanging down in the pictures has disappeared from this particular case.

But they hatched (potentially hundreds, rather than the eight or so I saw), and if any survived their first few days in the big world and didn't entirely eat each other, they're out there somewhere in the yard, growing and being part of our ecosystem.