Sunday, May 18, 2008
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.