Heads will not roll.
The Hunger Games will not begin.
Preying does not always work.
It's Aug. 2, 2020 and a praying mantis decides to occupy a specially stunning Mexican sunflower. Specifically, it's a female Stagmomantis limbata occupying a Tithonia rotundifolia.
It's a brilliant day, the kind of day that makes you love the world and everything in it. You know those kinds of days? No? Thought not. Me, neither.
A honey bee, Apis mellifera, lands on the Orange Blossom Special—no connection to the deluxe-passenger train that Johnny Cash made famous, the train that links New York City to Miami.
Ah, but it's a brilliant day, yes, indeed.
Ms. Honey Bee begins sipping nectar to share with her colony.
Ms. Mantis has no intention of sharing anything.
Ms. Mantis: “Well, hello there, Ms. Honey Bee! You are looking quite delicious today!”
Ms. Honey Bee: “Excuse me? Oh, yes, this nectar is delicious. Try some!”
Ms. Mantis: “No, thanks, I am a carnivore.”
Ms. Honey Bee: “Well, I'm a vegetarian!”
Ms. Mantis: “Well, I can bite your head off.”
Ms. Honey Bee: “That would not be a nice thing to do. Where are your manners?”
Ms. Mantis: “Manners? Do you think I'm Ms. Manners? I'm Ms. Mantis not Ms. Manners.”
Ms. Honey Bee: “Well, just telling you that I'm a vegetarian.”
Ms. Mantis: “I eat vegetarians.”
Ms. Honey Bee: "Not today!" Abruptly, she takes flight, buzzing off faster than Johnny Cash can mimic the "choo choo" of the Orange Blossom Special.
Conclusions? There are three:
- Heads do not always roll when a flower is double-occupied by a praying mantis and a honey bee.
- The Hunger Games do not always begin.
- Preying does not always work.
(Editor's Note: No organisms were injured in the making of these photographs. The mantis wanted to, though!)
What's for dinner?
If you're a praying mantis nymph, Stagmomantis limbata, perched on a sunflower, sometimes it can be a long wait. Breakfast fades into lunch, lunch fades into dinner...
First you scout out your territory and spread out (hey, look at me)!. Then you lurk in the shadows (don't look at me; I am not here)!
Where, oh, where is the prey?
And then it happens. Drama on a sunflower blossom.
This little nymph managed to snag what appeared to be a green bottle fly, or that's what it looked like at the onset. Toward the end it was as unrecognizable as whirled black-eyed peas and pureed ham hocks.
A fly might not be as tasty as a honey bee or a longhorned bee, but dinner is served. Bon Appétit!
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.