When my husband and I arrived at our mountain shack early yesterday morning, I found my little neighbor Mrs. Mantis standing over a new egg case. It was white and foamy, and she seemed very weak.
I wasn’t surprised – when we left her the other day, she had left her station on the patio railing and was trying to climb up the side of the shack. The cement board we sided the shack with seemed to be too slippery, so I again violated the prime directive – I hoisted her up on the top of the door frame, hoping she’d lay her eggs on the eaves of the shack.
As a child I enjoyed Nature, with my grandmother’s encouragement, we kids explored the world around us. Praying mantises always fascinated me. As soon as I found out what an egg case was, I started collecting them and keeping them in jars to watch them hatch. I found out – you have to be sure they have a lid with holes, and you have to watch them every day – when they hatch, they need to have food immediately.
I’ll never forget the day I came along just in time to watch them devouring each other, by the time I got the lid off the jar, about half of them were gone! They’re very fragile and weak when they hatch, and the first hatchlings fell upon the latecomers like piranhas.
But I’d never seen a mother lay her eggs. When I found Mrs. Mantis, the last bit of foamy casing was still stuck to the end of her abdomen. She hovered over the case, at one point, she fell onto the threshold of the door, but quickly righted herself and climbed back over the case. I realized, she was protecting it, at least until the foam hardened.
I assumed she would die within a few hours, and that made me sad – she’s been a very good neighbor, keeping the meat bees down to a dull roar. I wanted to know more about her, so I sat down at the computer and looked on wikipedia.
Mrs. Mantis is apparently a member of the “ground” or “bark” family of mantids. There are many kinds of mantids – this variety sticks around to guard it’s egg case, eating any erstwhile predators.
Of course as soon as my husband saw her on the bottom of our door, he asked her why she would place her family in such a high traffic area. It was his suggestion she might like to build her case under the eaves, where we’ve found a lot of cases in past. I think she must have fallen, unfortunately, her bottom so big, and was too tired to make it more than a couple of inches off the doorstep.
She is very sensitive to movement, even though she was comfortable with me when she was hanging around my water spigot. She seemed alarmed yesterday as we came and went through the door. It was windy, and my sinuses started to ache, so me and the dogs set up in the cabin to watch tv while my husband and a friend of ours worked on the new outhouse.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Mantis took up a post on the underside of the door trim, with her head directly beneath the case.
According to wikipedia, the case can be attacked by ants or parasitic wasps – and human mothers think they have a hard time! Luckily, Mother Mantis is an awesome and hungry predator. Can you imagine, having to eat somebody to protect your child? I remember being a mom – I think I could have done it.
I wonder how long the eggs will take to hatch? It’s getting cold – I don’t imagine they’d hatch now. How long will she be able to hold her post? Maybe she won’t need to hold it that long, maybe just until all the other bugs go into hibernation.
We’ll just have to wait and see!