Find the praying mantis.
That's not too difficult, considering this Stagmomantis limbata is gravid (pregnant) and about ready to deposit her ootheca (egg case or "ooth") on a nearby twig or branch.
Sandwiched herself between African blue basil and Salvia “hot lips"--where the bees are--she found easy pickings.
According to Bugguide.net: "Females most often fairly plain green (often yellowish abdomen), but sometimes gray, or light brown, with dark spot in middle of tegmina. Tegmina do not completely cover wide abdomen. Hind wings checkered or striped yellow. Blue upper lip more pronounced in females, brighter in green forms and darker in brown forms."
A day after this image was taken, the mantis vanished.
Ooh, there's an ooth out there somewhere.
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.
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.
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.
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).