So, the other day my son (we’ll call him Two, because of his birthorder) brought a stick into the house. This isn’t unusual. He’s thirteen, but he’s been bringing sticks into the house ever since he was able to walk and hold things at the same time. This time the stick he held had a hard, possibly gross little chunk of what appeared to be brown foam.
I had seen this before. We all had. A couple years a go, we purchased 3 praying mantis egg cases from a seed company for a nominal price. The goal was to put ’em in jars, hatch ’em, and watch ’em do their thing. And so we did. After a couple months or so, the Bell canning jars that held them were full (and I mean full) of baby praying mantises. We had 3 different “litters” on 3 different days just because, nature being what it is, they didn’t hatch at the same time. But that was fine. Spread out the fun, more or less.
Well, THIS year, we didn’t go looking for the egg case, but my son found one anyway, in his rigorous search for the perfect stick I would imagine. So, for fun (yes, we are limited, I know, I know) we put it in a trusty old canning jar, and began the wait. Actually, I think we forgot all about it. But whatever. When he found it, I figured it would take about 2 months to hatch, based upon the seed catalog eggs. But apparently, global warming or natural climate variation was in effect, because a few days later, I was staggering around the kitchen in my morning zombie state, looked up at the shelf in front of my nose, and, you guessed it, a swarm of baby mantises (manti?) greeted my eyes.
Now, I may be a little skewed, but I think they’re kinda cute. They are perfect miniatures of the adults, tilting their heads, looking at you with their bulbous eyes.
They have the disconcerting habit of eating each other if you don’t let them go, however. Cannibalism at its finest. Immediately, the boys (who are homeschooled) got excited because they knew I would be more interested in the mantises than in algebra, and they were right. I grabbed the camera and we all headed outdoors to take some pictures and do a release. I shot and shot, got lots of good pix, and the little critters climbed out of the nursery jar in twos and threes.
Many seemed to find my arms a nice place to land and possibly set up housekeeping, but they skittered away when I blew on them. Soon, the immediate area all around us–the brick patio, the nearby plantings–was teeming with tiny predators. We left the jar then, out on the warm cement, and allowed them to make their first steps into the wide world.
I considered keeping a couple. I really did. But this time, I decided not to keep any, basically because I have been there, done that.
The store-bought mantises of a few years back yielded 10 lucky winners…we set them up in containers (each in its OWN container, to prevent friendly snacking) from their first day, named them, fed them (wet catfood to start—they seem to learn quickly to lap it off the tip of a straightened paperclip) and then we got bigtime and ordered wingless fruitflies. (Yes, I am so crazy that I actually ORDERED flies, to live in our home, to feed our pet praying mantises.) Let me tell you, these babies can hunt. We would pop a couple flies in each container and the mantises would quickly and effectively assassinate them. But as they grew, so did their demands for food. And wingless fruitflies are flies nonetheless, and I got tired of squashing them all around the kitchen. So, we slowly pared down the herd with calculated releases. Until there was one.
We decided this one (and I can’t remember his name) would get Cadillac treatment, so I bought him a plastic critter keeper which we outfitted with sticks and rocks. He grew. He shed his exoskeleton several times. And I use the term “he” very loosely. Could have been a “she”. Probably WAS a she, as fast as it was growing. But whatever. This one hunted and killed voraciously. Got some pix of it dismembering a fly.
Imagine if it were big and we were small. Me thinks the human race would be in serious trouble. Heads would be rolling, as it were. But, nature being what it is, the status quo is fiction. One morning, about 5 am, I was wisely sleeping and I heard a terrific noise that scared the crap out of me coming from the kitchen. I sat straight up in bed, my eyes crusty, my heart pounding, listening for ANOTHER noise that would indicate imminent death from a home invasion. Silence. Nothing. And since the dog didn’t bark, I figured I’d take my chances and go back to sleep. Which I did.
When I awoke, I found the critter keeper on the floor, all the rocks tumbled onto the sides and roof. There was no mantis. I sifted through the rocks for a crushed body. Nothing. I searched around the kitchen for a tiny, poised killer. Nothing. Hmmmmm. The cat wound around my leg and nosed through the rocks. He looked at me. His eyes were wide and green and innocent. My mind flashed to all the times he has lept 6 vertical feet to catch a moth. All the times he has stalked spiders and houseflies, creeping up on them as if he were hunting antelope in the grasslands instead of bugs in my house.
“Ah, Soda Pop,” I said. He slanted his eyes up to me, clearly pleased with the situation. So, the tiny hunter had become the hunted. And then, apparently, had become lunch. Or early breakfast. Or maybe cats don’t care what the meal is called, as long as it’s still wriggling. And for what it’s worth, I know that if ole Soda weighed in at 200 lbs or so, I WOULD be the hunted. It’s a circle of life…thing. And Soda knows that, too. He tolerates me because I provide him with catfood and an occasional well-aged praying mantis. He pays me for my endeavors by rubbing my legs and clawing my furniture. Oh, and I dress him up in costumes as well. There’s a free download of his children’s book I HATE HALLOWEEN somewhere on this website, so check it out.
See, here he is, all dressed up. He hates me, clearly. He takes it out on praying mantises and such. It all rolls downhill. Probably a Karmic lesson there.
Oh, and I have two new pets.
Jumping spiders. Beautiful little killers they are, as well. I’ll keep you posted. Now I gotta go feed the cat.