The predator and the prey...
Or the predator-to-bee.
Currently, honey bees are foraging on our tower of jewels, Echium wildpretii, in our family's pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif. It's a veritable tower of bees.
They're side-stepping a little brown, carefully wrapped package: a praying mantis egg case, the ootheca. But sometimes they're stepping on it.
The "baby" mantids have not emerged yet, but soon they will. The siblings will eat one another before they turn to other prey.
The growing mantids will move from flower to flower and add the honey bee to their menu. Native bees, honey bees, butterflies...and it all begins right here--right here with the ootheca.
Everybody eats in the garden. Everybody.
The ootheca is a marvelous creation. Wikipedia tells us that ootheca is a Latinized combination of oo-, meaning "egg," from the Greek word ōon (cf. Latin ovum), and theca, meaning a "cover" or "container," from the Greek theke. Ootheke is Greek for ovary.
"Oothecae are made up of structural proteins and tanning agents that cause the protein to harden around the eggs, providing protection and stability," says Wikipedia. "The production of ootheca convergently evolved across numerous insect species due to a selection for protection from parasites and other forms of predation, as the complex structure of the shell casing provides an evolutionary reproductive advantage (although the fitness and lifespan also depend on other factors such as the temperature of the incubating ootheca)."
"The ootheca protects the eggs from microorganisms, parasitoids, predators, and weather; the ootheca maintains a stable water balance through variation in its surface, as it is porous in dry climates to protect against desiccation, and smooth in wet climates to protect against oversaturation. Its composition and appearance vary depending on species and environment."
The ootheca also protects against tiptoeing bees. They are totally unaware of what's in this little brown, carefully wrapped package. Its presence is not a present.
Sometimes you just have to display your sense of humor.
Take the case of a huge praying mantis sculpture that anchors the Davis, Calif., front yard of entomologists Robert and Lynn Kimsey of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
It's a coronoavirus-equipped mantis, complete with gloves and a face mask.
Yes, it's well protected. Yes, it's staying home. And yes, it's keeping a safe distance and not touching its eyes, nose or mouth as it searches for prey.
The score, so far:
Praying mantis: 0; Prey, 0.
The story behind the story: Their nephew found it at a garage sale in West Sacramento last year and during the holiday season, gifted it to Bob Kimsey, a forensic entomologist and adjunct professor.
What to do with a five-foot-long, three-foot-high praying mantis?
"We dressed it up," said Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and UC Davis professor of entomology.
"By next week it's going to have bunny ears and we've decided to put an empty 6-pack of Corona bottles underneath it," she said.
It resembles the praying mantis, Mantis religiosa, that we photographed at noon, Sept. 2, 2018 in the Kate Frey Pollinator Garden at the Sonoma Cornerstone, Sonoma.
We spent half an hour watching Ms. Mantis praying but not "preying" as honey bees buzzed her head.
Her appetite apparently satiated by multiple bee breakfasts consumed earlier that morning, she seemed quite content just to watch. Or maybe she was counting?
Praying Mantis: 0; Prey: 0.
In and around Vacaville, we've seen them on olive trees, honeysuckle vines, passionflower vines, and wooden stakes. On the UC Davis campus, we've seen them on a 10-foot-tall Mexican grass tree (Dasylirion longissimum) in the Storer Garden, UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden.
Then last week we spotted an ootheca on our decades-old weathered barn birdhouse.
It appears that a predator, probably a bird, ravaged it, though.
But those oothecas are tough.
As Wikpedia tells us: "Oothecae are made up of structural proteins and tanning agents that cause the protein to harden around the eggs, providing protection and stability. The production of ootheca convergently evolved across numerous insect species due to a selection for protection from parasites and other forms of predation, as the complex structure of the shell casing provides an evolutionary reproductive advantage (although the fitness and lifespan also depend on other factors such as the temperature of the incubating ootheca."
"The ootheca protects the eggs from microorganisms, parasitoids, predators, and weather; the ootheca maintains a stable water balance through variation in its surface, as it is porous in dry climates to protect against desiccation, and smooth in wet climates to protect against oversaturation," according to Wikipedia. "Its composition and appearance vary depending on species and environment."
We've always liked old barns. On our family farm, we spent many a glorious moment jumping around in the haymow before, after or during our chores. Fun times! Yes, we heard all the barn-related comments then and now:
- Close the door! Were you born in a barn?
- No use closing the barn door after the horse is gone.
- That guy couldn't hit the broad side of a barn.
Well, that praying mantis that graced us with the ootheca? Odds are that the offspring weren't born in a barn. Neither did they eclose.
Scientists at the UC Davis Bohart Museum of Entomology will help you do just that.
They've scheduled an open house on “Arthropod Husbandry: Raising Insects for Research and Fun” from 1 to 4 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 16 in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane. It's free and family friendly.
"We will have a number of people who are expert at raising insects, both for research and for fun," said Tabatha Yang, Bohart Museum education and outreach coordinator. UC Davis student Andrew Goffinet, a former UC Davis Bio Boot Camper, will be on hand to talk about rearing butterflies and moths. UC Davis entomology alumnus Lohit Garikipati will discuss praying mantids.
Another entomology alumnus Nicole Tam, will talk about rearing insects in the Geoffrey Attardo lab as part of research projects. Doctoral student and Bohart associate Zaid Khouri's topic is how to rear tarantulas and millipedes for fun.
"We also will be discussing Madagascar hissing cockroaches (hissers) as good options for 'starter pets' for kids, and some of the problems with stick insects (walking sticks)," Yang said. Visitors are invited to hold the hissers and stick insects and photograph them.
At 3 p.m., silkworm moth expert İsmail Şeker, a Turkish medical doctor who wrote a book about silkworm moths and the cottage silk industry in his home town, will show his newly produced video about the silkworm moth life cycle. Seker, also a talented videographer and a photographer, will answer questions following his 13-minute video presentation.
"This will be a fun open house for anyone considering a pet with an exoskeleton," Yang said."It will be good for educators to learn about classroom 'pets,' including those who do work with silk moths for life cycle lesson plans."
"Also, to kick off the holiday season we will have the unique wire jewelry by former entomology major Ann Kao, so people should be prepared to shop for some unique insect-inspired jewelry."
A family craft activity is also planned. This is the last open house of the year. The next open house will be on Jan. 18 when UC Davis graduate students from many different fields "will be talking/displaying about their cutting edge research with insects," Yang said.
The Bohart Museum houses a global collection of nearly eight million specimens. It is also the home of the seventh largest insect collection in North America, and the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of the insect biodiversity. Noted entomologist Richard M. Bohart (1913-2007) founded the museum. It maintains a live "petting zoo," featuring Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks or stick insects and tarantulas. The museum's gift shop, open year around, is stocked with T-shirts, sweatshirts, books, jewelry, posters, insect-collecting equipment and insect-themed candy.
Director of the museum is Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis. The staff includes Steve Heydon, senior museum scientist; Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator; and Jeff Smith, who curates the Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) section.
More information on the Bohart Museum is available on the website at http://bohart.ucdavis.edu or by contacting (530) 752-0493 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
When we last left Ms. Mantis, a female Stagmomantis limbata residing in our verbena patch, she was munching on a honey bee.
A successful ambush stalker, she was.
But not always.
Her plan to take down a duskywing butterfly, genus Erynnis, didn't go so well.
The butterfly, foraging on the blossoms, touches down near the predator, unaware of the trouble that could lie ahead.
The predator and the prey. The skillful hunter and the unsuspecting prey. Ms. Mantis is poised, ready to strike. The butterfly flutters away in the nick of time.
It will live to forage another day.
The mantis? It will live to hunt another day.