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.
Yes, I'm hungry.
A female praying mantis is perched upside down in our pollinator garden. She has maintained this position in the verbena over a four-day period, enduring temperatures that soar to 105 degrees.
The mantis, a Stagmomantis limbata (as identified by praying mantis expert Lohit Garikipati of UC Davis) remains persistent, even as the temperature gauge spikes and the insects vanish.
Then on Saturday afternoon, we notice a few honey bees and Valley carpenter bees buzzing around her, and Gulf Fritillary butterflies and skipper butterflies fluttering next to her.
The predator and the prey. The hunter and the hunted. Will she be a successful hunter today? No, not today. Maybe tomorrow.
On Sunday morning, with the temperature hovering at 80 degrees, it happens. A sluggish honey bee makes the fatal mistake of nectaring on a blossom next to her.
Bad day for the honey bee; good day for the mantis. The mantis grabs the bee with her spiked forelegs, clutching it firmly, and begins to eat.
Freeloader flies, Milichiidae (probably genus Desmometopa), arrive too late to partake in the meal.
Ms. Mantis, now nourished, scales a verbena stem.
Am I hungry? Well, I can still eat a bite.
We rarely see an adult praying mantis until late summer or fall.
Their offspring are out there, though.
And sometimes we see life go full circle.
On Sept. 23, 2018, we watched a Mama Stagmomantis limbata, as identified by UC Davis entomology student and mantis expert Lohit Garikipati, a Bohart Museum of Entomology associate who rears mantids) grace our planter with an ootheca in Vacaville, Calif.
As we mentioned in a previous Bug Squad blog:
"She climbed a redwood stake, looked around, saw me (oh, no problem, you're not a predator!), and crawled over to the other side. She positioned herself upside down, bulging abdomen intact, and proceeded to do her business. A frothy cream-colored substance began to emerge. (See my short YouTube video.) When darkness fell, she was still there."
"When Monday dawned, she was still there, her ootheca finished and hardening. It probably contains several hundred eggs, but who's counting? However, scientists estimate that only one fifth will survive to adulthood. Many of the nymphs will be eaten by their hungry brothers and sisters. Bon appétit!"
Fast forward to May 13, 2019. We spotted an offspring cradled in a leaf a few inches from the ootheca. "First-instar, Stagmomantis limbata," Garikipati said. "Must be an ooth nearby."
And then on May 19 our "star"--or maybe one of its siblings--came up missing a chunk of its abdomen. Sibling cannibalism?
No "sisterly or brotherly love," to be sure.
Henrietta, our Stagmomantis limbata praying mantis, perches on a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia).
She is as patient as she is persistent.
The drone fly, aka syrphid and also known as a hover fly or flower fly, makes the fatal mistake of touching down on the same blossom.
Henrietta eyes it hungrily. Faster than a blink of the eye, she snares it, clutching it between her spiked forelegs.
"Well, of course, I like drone flies," she appears to be saying, between mouthfuls. "Thank you for asking."
Praying mantids are not known for their table manners. It's grab, hold and eat.
The cycle of life in the garden.
Talk about the unexpected.
“Look!” says Jim.
He pauses by the kitchen counter.
"Over there!” he says, pointing. I don't see anything except the half-filled coffee pot.
Then I see it. "There," as in “over there,” is a praying mantis clinging to the wall and staring at us. It is like finding a grizzly bear in Kenya. (Yes, there is a grizzly bear in Kenya, on a private reserve, the Ol Jogi wildlife conservancy in Laikipia, Kenya)
Praying mantis expert Lohit Garikipati, entomology student at the University of California, Davis and an associate at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, identified our kitchen guest as a Stagmomantis limbata, a bordered mantis native to North America. “Looks like she wanted to come in for some free food!” Lohit quipped.
That's how we acquired Henrietta (which means home ruler) . Apparently she hitched a ride on the back of Jim's jacket as he was removing a patch of Mexican sunflowers. She opted to depart her "ride" in our kitchen.
By the half-filled coffee pot. Praying mantids don't do coffee.
We placed Henrietta in an aquarium, screened at the top, and kept her for a week, feeding her drone flies and crickets. We provided her with an upright stick just in case she wanted to deposit an egg case, an ootheca.
Several days later an ootheca, about an inch long, appeared in the aquarium. Not on the stick—she chose to deposit it on the floor.
What does an ootheca look like under a powerful microscope? Amazing. Lynn Epstein, UC Davis emeritus professor of plant pathology, photographed it with a Leica DVM6 microscope owned by the Department of Pathology and the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (see below).