Last fall my three-year-old granddaughter became fascinated with a dead praying mantis she found in my driveway. That was the second one I had seen around the yard that week, after not seeing any. A few days later I discovered a tan, foamy egg case clinging to one of the plants in the garden, indicating that yes, they have arrived and have decided to hang around the neighborhood. I thought the egg case might be a cool thing to share with her pre-school class, so I packed it into a container and sent it home with her mother to winter over until the school would take it this spring, in hopes the kids could watch them hatch.
While cutting back some of the old, woody lavender plants a couple of days ago, I came across three more praying mantis egg cases that were clinging deep within the branches. Seems the mantises had been pretty busy last autumn. Now that it is spring, we thought some of the other classes in the school might also enjoy watching them hatch, so I scooped those up and placed them into a small paper lunch bag to bring to my daughter, who I was meeting at a family gathering and birthday party at my brother’s house.
Today happened to be Earth Day, and a gorgeous, clear blue let’s-be-outside-all-day kind of spring afternoon. We had lunch and walked around the property to see what perennials were coming up. We checked out the awakening koi fish (a few new ones seem to have appeared) and the frogs floating in the pond, walked down to the bluebird house, and visited my brother’s bee hives.
We discovered the trout lilies growing in the woods and stood in awe of the massive tulip tree with almost eighty rings that had been struck and felled by lightening. We identified a number of wild spring edibles. It really felt like an Earth day filled with Earth-type appreciation. We had birthday cake. Finally it was time to head home, so I went to fetch the bag of mantis eggs out of my car to give to my daughter.
Well, I should have known that leaving a bag of insect eggs in a waxy paper sandwich bag inside a warm car on a sunny day was probably not such a good idea. As I lifted the thin paper container that held them, I could already see through the paper that there were all these tiny black lines and dots (bodies and eyes) moving around inside the bag. Actually there were hundreds of newly hatched and active baby mantises inside the open bag. Needless to say, there are (I don’t know how many) escapees in my car.
As I headed back to the house gingerly holding this unanticipated science-project surprise, everyone gathered around with excitement to see them. It was impossible to figure out which egg case or cases they had hatched from, as they are just these foamy blobs of styrofoam-type stuff with no discernable entrances or exit holes. We shook out the throngs of nymphs into one of the garden beds, where they quickly took off. Newly hatched nymphs go off in search of food. Apparently some of them eat their sibling hatchlings as their first meal.
We put the egg cases into a glass jar in order to contain any more that might emerge. By the time my daughter got back to her own house, even more had hatched inside the jar, so she put them in her own garden too. We are hoping there might be a few left over for the school by Monday. But it may be too late.
I got back in my car and looked around for more of the little guys, but they had already scattered. They are tiny and fast, so I don’t know if they will be living and growing up in my car or if they will survive. My car is such a mess inside that anything is possible. This could be a little creepy. It might be an interesting summer.