Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Praying They Don't Get Too Big!

So, who knew?

I sure didn't.

A couple of weeks ago my adorable grandson, Nolan, announced that his class had hatched a bunch of praying mantis eggs and that, if "the grownups" agreed, the kids could take one home.

Needless to say, my mind took a flying leap from the comfort zone cliff with a half-gainer and a double twist, and landed somewhere in the you've-got-to-be-kidding-me area of incredulity.  They hatched praying mantises?  They get to take them home?  What?

Of course, I wanted to know what possessed Nolan's teacher to hatch praying mantis eggs.  And where the heck did she get them?

At Home Depot.  That's where.

For thirteen bucks, you, too, can purchase a praying mantis egg case containing anywhere from 40 to 400 eggs.  They hatch in about one hour, according to the HD website.

The idea, apparently, is natural pest control.  They eat anything thing that wiggles and fits in their mouth.  These aggressive and ravenous beasts will help to keep ants, fruit flies, gnats, aphids, flies, mosquitoes, beetles, moths, caterpillars and even grasshoppers out of your garden and out of your hair.  No need for sprays or chemicals.  Just let these crazy things loose and all your bug problems will disappear.

Mind you, you are then left with giant, green bugs scurrying around your yard.  Praying mantises can grow to 20 cm in length.  Though, to be fair - not to mentioned somewhat releived - the species that Nolan's class hatched only grow to be about 10 cm.  All things considered a 4" bug is better than an 8" bug.  But jeez!  Four inches!  Who said living with grandchildren wouldn't be challenging?  

There are over 2400 species of praying mantis in the world and most of them are native to temperate and tropical climates.  Edmonton has a decidedly continental climate.  

So what the heck are these things doing here?  How did this happen?  Why am I, a person who chooses locations to live based on the size of spiders and insects (the smaller, the better) and the type and number of snakes and other creepy crawlies, now wrapping my head around living in  a  place where 4" long bugs are a thing people do? On purpose!  

Imagine running into one of these in your house.
We have two!
Some fun praying mantis facts:

1. Most mantises live in the tropics.  Except for Daisy, the praying mantis formerly known as Little Foot, and Walter, who both live in MY house!

2. Most  mantises in North America are exotic rather than native, having been introduced either by accident or by insanity.  The Chinese Mantis was introduced in Philidelphia in the 1930's.  

3.  Mantids are unique in the insect world for being able to turn their heads 180 degrees.  It's really hard to sneak up on them!

4. Mantids are believed to share their ancestry with cockroaches and termites.  Oh, goodie!  

5.  Mantids overwinter as eggs in temperate climates.  Mating occurs in early fall.  Then the female lays her eggs and covers them in a protective styrofoam-like goo that forms the case - also called an ootheca.  Find one and bring it in during the winter and the warmth will trick the eggs into hatching.  So, for the love of Pete, leave them outside!

6.  Female mantises sometimes eat their mates.  But this only happens about 30% of the time in the wild.  It is more common in labs and other forms of captivity for some reason.  

7.  Manids use their specialized raptorial front legs to capture prey.  Sharp spines line these deadly appendages and are used to hold prey tight while the mantis eats its prey.  Alive!

8.  In evolutionary terms, mantids are quite young.  The oldest fossils date from the Cretaceous period - 146-66 million years ago.

9.  Mantids do eat other insects, but they do not discriminate between the good bugs and the bad ones.  A helpful, pollinating bee is just as tasty as a rose-destroying aphid.

10.  A praying mantis has binocular vision, but only one ear, which is located on its belly just forward of the back legs.  This means that it cannot detect the direction or frequency of sound.  It can, however, detect ultrasound - the sound of an echolocating bat - and thus evade becoming dinner itself.   

11. The word mantis comes from the Greek mantikos, for soothsayer or prophet. Indeed, these insects do look spiritual and mysterious, especially when their forelegs are clasped together as if they're in prayer

At the moment Walter and Daisy are only about a half-inch long.  I admit they are kind of cute.  For now.  But after watching Walter consume an ant last night, I am not looking forward to their first molt and subsequent enlargement.  

I wonder if we'll be able to pitch the pest control theory to the kids successfully....

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