Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Nature Study -- Praying Mantis Oothecae

Been a while since I made a nature post.  I had this one in draft form before my brother Clint died.  It's interesting because I think of him when I think of praying mantises.  He had a fascination with them for a while when he was younger and kept some himself to observe.  I even consulted him about his experience while we did this project, because I wanted to know whether I'd be able to tell when an ootheca had hatched.  He said it would be difficult to tell, and he was right.  There was basically no difference in appearance between one that had hatched and one that hadn't.  There was some "stuff" (how do you like my scientific terminology? ;) ) that had been part of it that came out with the insects and hung from it, as slight evidence of the "explosion," but that was all.  I've finally finished the post.  It would have been nice to share it with Clint....

Late last summer and into fall, the children and I enjoyed observing at least one huge Chinese mantis that hung out in our yard for a while.  I know that one we saw was a female, because we discovered that the gender can be determined from the number of segments counted on an adult's abdomen -- eight for male, six for female.  Also, once when we saw her, her abdomen was swollen, which we learned was probably because she was preparing to lay oothecae.

Later, we discovered an ootheca and thought that she must have laid it.  I thought I'd eventually bring it in so we could observe it, but then I read that one should be careful not to keep it in too warm/dry a place, and that it's maybe best to just keep it in a jar in a shed or some other unheated building, and I didn't know exactly where I'd put it and whether we'd be able to observe it very well anyway in our shed through the winter.  While I delayed in indecision, winter set in harder than usual with a big snow that was on the ground for some time.

The ootheca had been attached to some taller grass right next to our fence, so it wasn't far off the ground and was completely buried in the snow for a while.  At some point in the winter I thought of it and wondered whether any life inside had survived what for us was a pretty nasty cold spell, or whether it was even still to be found.  I went outside and was able to find it.  I set it in a jar in an area of the basement and then the garage for the rest of the winter.  Those places in our home are not completely unheated, but they are colder than the rest of our house in the winter.

I strung it on a thread so that it would be suspended and not just sitting on the bottom of the jar, because the emerging nymphs need to hang to dry when they emerge.  I secured the thread to the lid of a small jar we'd used to observe insects before, and then put the lid on the jar, so that the ootheca was inside.

In the early spring, when I was just beginning to think that maybe the ootheca would have hatched by now if it were going to, we found another one in the asparagus patch, just lying on the ground.  It may have originally been attached to an asparagus stem.  I tossed it in the jar with the other one but didn't take the time to hang it up.  I thought maybe I'd get to it, but I was also unsure whether either of them survived the winter anyway, so I didn't give it too much thought.

One day in April, the children called excitedly from downstairs in an emergency tone, "MOM! MOM!!!" The nymphs were emerging, from both oothecae!

The brownish balls are the oothecae.  The little scribbly-looking things crawling all over each other are the mantis nymphs.

It was pretty amazing.  I don't know how many there were, but there were a LOT!

Most of the mantises had left the jar by the time the above photo was taken, so you can kind of see how the oothecae looked after the hatching.  Not a lot different than before except for the aforementioned "stuff" hanging from the top one.

Shifting focus, I took some other photos while we were outside. Some of them are of some plant life in our yard, which we learn about in an extremely informal way on most occasions, just by living with it throughout the year (and eating it, where applicable :) ).

Sweet sisters. :)

Liberty has grown so much since then!

Apple blossoms and flower.

Peach tree flowers.  They are pretty, but we have yet to get any good fruit from our dwarf tree. :(  We'd like to try a full-sized fruit trees instead someday, if we ever have a place with the space for that.  Technically we could do maybe a couple here, but we hope to move before we would get any fruit from them.

Asparagus -- yes, I let it grow too long, but it made a nice photo, don't you think? ;-)

Two cute girls with too small shirts -- oops.  You can tell this was an impromptu photo shoot.

 At one point, we left Liberty inside and went back out "just for a minute" -- I wanted to see about grabbing another photo or two.  I wasn't out long, but of course it was long enough for the busy Liberty to have discovered the olive oil!

"This is very interesting stuff, Mom.  Rather slippery." 

"Look, it makes my feet shiny!  Not sure whether I like the taste or not."

This post is part of the Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival hosted this week at Homeschooling Kiwi Style.


  1. What a delightful post! I love the nature study--great opportunity for you and the kids! And the picture of Liberty in the olive oil made me groan, then chuckle!

  2. Great observations in your nature studies! That was really interesting. Delightful littles, too.
    Merry Christmas,

  3. Ryan had a mantis when he was in 5th grade. It was in a terrarium with a screened top. When it laid the egg case, he took it to school. I got a call one day from the teacher begging me to come there immediately; the eggs had hatched and there were hundreds of tiny mantis all over the classroom! The screen on top had too big holes, evidently, to contain them.

  4. Now that is cool! We see mantises a lot in WalMart's parking lot for some reason but have never found an egg case. Your garden should be very happy this year!

  5. Great post! I can still remember my entomology lecturer at University saying the word "ootheca", but if you had asked the other day what it meant I wouldn't have remembered! What a great find - and fun to watch the little mantids hatching! We get a lot of them here too.

  6. How lovely! I loved the olive oil pictures. Dry skin wasn't an issue for either of you for a few days, huh?

    ABout the mantis project. I loved it and am tempted to do this. Did you see an improvement in insect damage in your garden this year? Just curious because my dh sprays and I hate that.

  7. Aunt Kathy, that is hilarious!!! Did you end up trying to capture them or did they get squished by panicked fifth graders?

  8. Marlis, I have to say I don't really know whether there was an improvement in insect damage in the garden this year. I was admittedly pretty detached from my garden most of the season. We planted some stuff, then did quite a bit of traveling, followed closely by my brother's death and my forgetting entirely about the garden for quite some time. The children kind of took care of it and brought food in, and I ate some of it but don't really remember it. We've had mantises around before though and I assume many of the ones we released either died or went to new territory, so I don't know whether this new crop would have made a difference here or not. Good question and I wish I had a better answer.

  9. Thanks for your answer Amber. i am a new visitor to your blog and didn't know about your brother. I am so sorry to hear about it and wish i could offer words of comfort. I've always read that Praying Mantises are great insectivores and was fascinated by your blog. I look forward to many more visits to your blog. BTW, I am hosting an awesome giveaway on my blog that would interest you science minded folks :)


  10. That must have been so cool for your kids to see all those tiny mantises coming out! Your daughters are sweet indeed. Love seeing your family and how your nature study happens.


  11. Thanks for your kind thoughts, Marlis. And the giveaway as well!

    Thanks for your thoughts as well, Eve, and also everyone else to whom I didn't reply individually. I'm definitely not the best at getting back with comments, but appreciate the remarks.

    Dana, I meant to say earlier that Wal-Mart's parking lot is an interesting place to find mantises. I wonder why they hang out there.