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I've loved praying mantises since I was a child. In the spring of 2004, I ordered three Chinese Mantis (Tenodera sinesis) egg cases from a gardening company. I allowed them to hatch indoors in a small terrarium. One day I came home from work and there were hundreds of 3/8" long baby mantises. The mantises in all three cases emerged within 48 hours of each other. I hand-released them around the borders of my home and in the garden. Ever since then, I have not had to buy any more egg cases, as I find them each fall. I have since moved to a different home and will not be releasing any Chinese mantises here.
Although it is an enjoyable experience to purchase egg sacs and watch the babies hatch, and many people think of them as "beneficial insects" for their garden, now that I have seen what it can do to a local area (I see mantises every year since I released my original batch), I strongly encourage you not to purchase egg sacs from gardening companies and enjoy your native populations instead. I haven't even seen one of the native mantises in my area in years, and if there are any, I'm sure the introduction of the Chinese Mantis can't be doing them any good. It is easy to tell them apart too. The native species has a black and white blotch in the "armpit" area. They also often have red tips on the ends of their legs. Click here to shortcut to my photos of a Michigan native mantis. The Chinese Mantis does not have these unique markings.
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My Mantis Watercolor
I liked one photo so much that I created a 20 X 28 watercolor using the photograph as a reference. On the left is the photograph. On the right is the watercolor. Click here to see close-ups of different areas of the watercolor.
2012 Baby Mantises, Native Michigan Species
I found an egg sac in a field on May 5, 2012. I thought it was an old one because it felt so light. I put it on my fireplace mantle as a decoration and forgot about it until May 13th, when I found a baby mantis on my family room floor. I didn't see any more exiting the sac, but I decided to put it in a cup with saran wrap on top, just in case it did indeed come from there. Sure enough, the next morning, there were about 70-80 babies in the cup! I released them in my yard and my parents' yard. I thought they were all done, but I kept the cup sealed with the sac inside. The next day, there were about 50 more! The following day, another 17 emerged!
I decided to keep eight of them, placed them in separate cups, and purchased flightless fruit flies from the pet store to feed them. That was sure a mistake. They were the kind grown in the blue medium that comes from Carolina Biological Supply Company (and maybe other places as well)---this medium contains an anti-mold agent that is toxic to the mantises. After they ate the flies, a few became paralyzed. Others were moving very slowly. I remembered the trouble I had raising baby Platycrypti jumping spiders---I couldn't figure out what I had done wrong, but I now attribute their premature deaths to the flies I was feeding them, grown in the blue medium. Sadly, four mantis babies died. However, once I started catching gnats and mosquitoes by my front porch lights at night, the other four quickly revived and seem to be doing well. I hope to raise them up and determine the type of mantis they are. The babies looked different than the Chinese mantises I have hatched in the past---there are two dots on their head that the Chinese mantis babies didn't have. I am hoping they are native species and that their introduction at my new house is successful.
They are photographed on a variety of flowers from my parents' house, such as peonies, chives, columbine, the tip of a clematis flower, forget-me-nots, alliums, and some kind of flower similar to a carnation.
I kept four mantises to raise. By May 25, 2012, only three of the four mantises remained. Sadly, one mantis had died a few days ago---it was right after it had eaten a gnat that I'd caught that night. I assumed the gnat may have been laced with pesticides or weed killers but hadn't died, but then later I read that the runt mantises don't usually do very well. I unknowingly kept two of the last mantises to hatch as my "keepers." Therefore, it could have just been a weak specimen. In any case, luckily PetCo called and let me know that fruit flies from "The Fruit Fly Company" had finally arrived. These are grown on a different medium without the mold inhibitor.
Of the three remaining mantises, two were ready to shed on this day. One was already out of its skin when I found it. The first row of photos shows this one, as well as the skin left behind. The other mantis remained struggling for about 4 hours before I realized that it wasn't going to get out of there without help. I used a magnifying glass and a small needle to remove its legs, an extremely delicate operation (only two of its legs---a hind leg and middle leg---had successfully come out), but by this time, they had already seemed to harden in the wrong positions and the mantis was badly crippled. I hoped that it would somehow be able to walk somewhat, and that maybe I could hand-feed it until it could shed its skin again, but then I also thought that even if it did grow enough to shed, it couldn't necessarily move in the right ways to get out of the old skin. It struggled around for about 12 hours and drank water from the needle tip that I gave it. Then I couldn't bear to watch it be frustrated with its life any longer, but I didn't know if I could end it. I have never killed any insect that I am especially fond of, and mantises have been one of my favorites since I was little. They are more intelligent than many insects. I knew it must feel awful in that condition. I took a fruit fly and mashed it a bit (feeling a little strange that it didn't bother me that much to kill the fly for the mantis, but the thought of ending the mantis's suffering bothered me immensely). I gave it to the mantis on the needle tip. It couldn't use its forelegs to grasp it, although it tried. I held it there until it could eat most of it. Then I gave it some water. Then I folded over the tissue and rolled a heavy glass over the top, starting with its head. Then I cried. I still got sad the next day thinking about that poor mantis. I had no idea it was going to be so hard to raise a few mantises.
The other mantis didn't try to shed until the late evening of May 30, 2012. When I found it, its skin had begun to split, but it was barely hanging on to the tissue. However, I didn't have it arranged vertically in the cage---I had it lining the inside of a cup, but the cup was setting the way one would set the cup normally. After this bad experience, I read that they require a surface parallel to the horizon in order to shed. I also read that they need high humidity when they are ready to shed. I added a moist paper towel to the remaining mantis's enclosure (that I am replacing every day) and now set the cup on its side so that the lining in the cup has areas for the mantis to hang upside down from. I photographed the remaining mantis on one of my orchids.
On June 2, 2012, the remaining mantis shed its skin successfully in my new set-up. I photographed it on a piece of moss on June 4, 2012. It is now about an inch long.
On June 10, 2012, the remaining mantis successfully shed its skin for the third time. I photographed it on the orchid again so the size difference is evident. It is now a little over an inch long. One thing I have found interesting, but I could not photograph, is that when it eats, the food particles can be seen moving up and down in its esophagus, since the thorax is so transparent.
Here is the mantis photographed on June 26, 2012, the night before it shed. I had a feeling it was going to shed because it stopped eating and was batting the fly away that I had in its container. I decided to take the fly out so if it did shed, the fly couldn't knock it down. I figured I had better take some photos just in case it died while shedding. This time, the photos were taken on some Sweet Williams and Sweet Pea flowers.
2008 Adult Mantis
This mantis was photographed out of my den window on September 8, 2008 while it was on the butterfly bushes. I was happy to have captured the facets in its eyes even though I was just handholding the camera.
2008 Young Mantis
On July 30, 2008, I found this young mantis, about 2 1/2" long. I also made two animations of it.
2008 Baby Mantis
Well, it's been a couple years since I photographed a mantis. I found this baby on July 5, 2008 on my screen outside the window, so I pushed up the screen and got it down to photograph. It was only about an inch long.
2006 Adult Mantis
On September 4, 2006, I photographed the same mantis as on the 3rd, this time, trying to achieve better close-ups and poses.
On September 3, 2006, I photographed the same mantis I saw emerge from its skin on August 28th. It is shown on a summer poinsettia.
I have never actually observed a mantis emerging from it's old skin until about 2 am on August 28, 2006. This year, I also saw a cicada emerge for the first time too! I think mantises, like cicadas, also do this process at night because I often find the skins in the morning. This time, I happened to be awake. I missed most of the beginning process, but I did manage to capture it before it got its front legs and antennae free. It was hanging upside down from the top of the cage for this process. Like the cicada I saw, the wings were all shriveled up. Again, I thought wrong and figured they must be a juvenile set of wings. But within a few hours, they were a full set of wings covering the mantis's entire back. The pictures are in sequential order below.
2006 Baby Mantises
The first egg sac hatched on May 25, 2006, shortly after a rainstorm. My photos didn't turn out as well as I'd hoped, but even though a few were out of focus, I thought they looked nice from an artistic perspective.
2005 Adult Mantises
In the fall of 2005, I came across a pair of mantises (probably ones that I released during the spring) and I put them together in the same cage. They mated and the female laid an egg sac. I decided to take some pictures of her before releasing her outside.
2005 Baby Mantises
I kept a pair of mantises from 2004 and the female laid an egg sac. I kept it outside in the garage and hydrated it every week or so. About 100 mantises emerged on May 21, 2005. Luckily, I had just arrived home from work shortly after their emergence. They are only about 3/8" to 1/2" in length and are so fragile they can be crushed by picking them up the wrong way. If you look at the fourth photo of the hanging mantises below, you can see that a few mantises were too immature and were pushed out of the egg sac without ever coming out of their casing. They resemble a tiny torpedo. About 20 were "hog-tied" with silken threads and the remains of their casing. I tried to rescue those mantises by removing the casing with a needle. I had a 25% success rate (they were too fragile). I hand-released all of the healthy mantises around the perimeter of my home. I hope to see them later in the summer.
On June 4th and 5th of 2005, another egg sac hatched. This sac was over-wintered naturally and was found outside on the side of the house this spring. These mantises seemed more lively and healthy than the ones I raised. Perhaps mine needed more water. Here are some pictures of the second batch of 2005 mantises, this time photographed on peonies. The last picture shows an unfortunate mantis. It is badly deformed.
The first generation of adult mantises, August 7, 2004
Native Mantis from the Saugatuck Dunes
The following photographs were of a wild mantis of a different species. I found it on the wall of a gas station near the Saugatuck Dunes on the west side of Michigan on 7-24-04. I took it into the woods to take photographs on a nicer surface.
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