Today is Black Friday, a day that marks the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. It's reportedly the busiest shopping day of the year.
But to us, today is Green Friday, in recognition of a female green praying mantis,Stagmomantis limbata.occupying a rib of a tall green cactus in our Vacaville garden. This is not her "busiest shopping day" of the year.
Ms. Mantis is not praying or preying. She is resting. She is clinging to a Pachycereus marginatus, also known as a "Mexican fence post."
She's the last of the season. She's already deposited her egg case, an ootheca, and she's about to expire.
Ms. Mantis peers at me with her super-duper 3-D vision. She can turn her triangular-shaped head 180 degrees. She's an ambush predator and a strikingly fast predator at that. She can nail a bee, fly or butterfly with her spiked forelegs in about 50 to 70 milliseconds.
But not now.
She is resting. She is the last of the season.
It's Green Friday.
Last fall, a Stagmomantis limbata deposited her egg case, or ootheca, on a clothespin on our outdoor clothesline. On April 9, the clothespin sprang to life. Hundreds of nymphs emerged, scrambled away, and vanished.
Some wandered around on the clothesline. Some ate one another. Some survived to adulthood.
We saw only four in our pollinator garden: a female in the patch of lion's tail, Leonotis leonurus; a female on the Mexican sunflower Tithonia rotundifola; and a male and female in the African blue basil, Ocimum kilimandscharicum × basilicum 'Dark Opal."
They appeared, disappeared, and never re-appeared.
Meanwhile, our lantana, Lantana camara, proved to be a magnet for such pollinators as honey bees, syrphid flies, skippers and cabbage white butterflies, but nary a praying mantis.
Fast forward to the late afternoon of Sept. 25. There perched in the flood of red and gold blossoms was a gush of green, a beautiful gravid praying mantis, S. limbata, looking as if she'd never missed a meal and looking quite Mama-like.
How did we ever miss her?
Talk about a quail of a time....
When the ootheca of a praying mantis, Stagmomantis limbata, hatched April 9 on a clothespin clamped to our clothesline in our yard, all the nymphs scattered. Some crawled up a metallic quail sculpture, the highest structure on the clothesline. (See Bug Squad blog)
A bird's eye view? They scrambled about, covering the beak (beak-a-boo), the eyes and the tail (bright-eyed and bushy tailed), and the wings (were they just winging it?).
If a flock of quail is collectively known as a flock, covey or bevy, what is the collective noun for a group of mantids?
A mass of mantids? A pack of predators? A prayer meeting? Or a prey-er meeting? Brothers and sisters, we are gathered here today....let us prey.
Only a few will survive to maturity. Many have already been eaten by a brother or sister. And some will lose their head to a female suitor (sexual cannibalism).
Birds of a feather may flock together, but praying mantids do not. They keep their compound eyes on the prize, and spiked forelegs on their prey.
None would ever be nominated for Miss or Mr. Congeniality.
Saturday, April 9 was the day a clothespin sprang to life.
Some 200 praying mantis nymphs emerged from an ootheca that Mama Mantis (Stagmomantis limbata) had deposited last summer in our pollinator garden in Vacaville.
We first noticed the camouflaged ootheca (aka eggcase or ooth) on the wooden clothespin in mid-March when we were hanging a freshly laundered dog blanket on the line.
Then on that warm Saturday, with temperatures edging 80 degrees, the clothespin exploded with life. From a distance, the nymphs looked like feathery little ants flicking about.
Looking a lot like Mama, they edged out of the ooth, crawled up and down the clothesline, and then some ascended a metallic quail sculpture, the highest point.
A bird's eye view.
Praying mantis experts say that only a handful will survive to maturity. Yes, they will eat one another, along with other small insects such as fruit flies and aphids. Then they will advance to larger prey.
When Sunday dawned, they were gone.
No doubt you've seen a praying mantis egg case, or ootheca, on a tree, shrub, fence or post.
But have you ever seen one attached to a clothespin on an outdoor clothes line?
So here we were Thursday afternoon, hanging freshly laundered dog blankets on the clothes line.
We grabbed one clothespin after another, carefully fastening Fido's favorite blankets to the line to dry in the 80-degree temperature.
One more reach....Whoa! What's that?
Can't use that one. There's a ooth on it.
A praying mantis, Stagmomantis limbata, had apparently pinned her hopes to a clothespin. Or maybe that was her PIN number?
"Too funny," commented Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and a UC Davis distinguished professor of entomology. "What a weird place to put your ooth."
Our little gravid gal must have climbed the eight-foot-high clothes pole last fall; walked the line (ala Johnny Cash?); and discovered the "perfect place" to deposit her ooth--right above a patch of Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia rotundifola) buzzing with bees and fluttering with butterflies.
"I've seen egg cases on outdoor furniture, predator guards on duck boxes, on buildings between bricks, trees, and even garden implements like pots, watering cans, and tools," said praying mantis expert Andrew Pfeifer, who now studies horticulture/landscape design at North Carolina University. "It's a Stagmomantis limbata ooth for sure; the hatch rate will be 150 or less."
Oothecas don't usually hatch until around June, but with the temperatures soaring here in Vacaville, it could happen "even within the month," Pfeifer says.
In September 2018, we watched a praying mantis deposit her ooth a few feet from that clothesline. That gal chose a redwood stake. (See photos on Bug Squad blog).
Now we wait for the nymphs to emerge...and scramble to eat one another...and prey on bees and butterflies...and the life cycle begins.