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).
She hides 'em and we seek 'em.
We've spotted as many as seven adult praying mantids at a time in our little pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif., but never once have we seen any of them laying eggs.
The praying mantis lays an egg mass known as an ootheca or a protective egg sac. But always when you're nowhere around!
Not so this time.
Late Sunday afternoon, Sept. 23, Ms. Mantis (a Stagmomantis limbata, as identified by UC Davis student Lohit Garikipati, a Bohart Museum of Entomology associate who rears mantids) decided to grace our milkweed planter with a little present.
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?
"Now that she's deposited the ootheca, will she expire soon?" we asked Garikipati.
"It's still early on in the season, so she may lay another two or three," he said.
She may indeed. Mama Mantis continues to hang out in the milkweed, while her ootheca, like a flag on a flag pole, "commemorates" the spot.
It should be a warning sign to incoming monarchs.
The next day, we found the clipped wing of a male monarch.
Eager hands cradling an orchid mantis.
Eyes darting toward a hornet's nest.
That set the scene at the UC Davis Bohart Museum of Entomology's three-hour open house, themed "Crafty Insects." Visitors learned about the sneaky or cunning insects like praying mantids, and about the skillful insects such as hornets that construct intricate nests of wood pulp and saliva.
Entomologist Jeff Smith, who curates the butterfly and moth section of the Bohart, loaned the quilted dragonfly hanging, the work of his mother-in-law, quiltmaker/seamstress Ann Babicky of Schofield, Wis. "She made it personally with us in mind," he said.
UC Davis entomology student and Bohart associate Lohit Garikipati, who rears mantids, loaned some of his favorites, including an orchid mantis, Hymenopus coronatus, a shield mantis, Rhombodera valida, and an Asian dead leaf mantis, Deroplatys truncata.
Garikipati, who serves as secretary of the UC Davis Entomology Club displayed mantids and walking sticks with club president Chloe Shott.
Smith and Bohart associate Greg Kareofelas showed visitors the moth and butterfly collection, while UC Davis student Emma Cluff answered questions about a hornet's nest. Another UC Davis student, Isabelle Gilchrist, staffed the "paint-a-rock" table. (See Bug Squad blog). Tabatha Yang, the Bohart's education and outreach coordinator, coordinated the open house.
Located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, it houses
- nearly eight million insect specimens
- the seventh largest insect collection in North America
- the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of the insect biodiversity
- a live "petting zoo," comprised of Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks, tarantulas and praying mantids; and
- a year-around gift shop, which is stocked with T-shirts, sweatshirts, books, jewelry, posters, insect-collecting equipment and insect-themed candy
The Bohart Museum's regular hours are from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. It is closed to the public on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and on major holidays. Admission is free.
Public weekend hours for the academic year 2018-2019 are:
- Sunday, Nov. 18, from 1 to 4 p.m.: "Bring It Home: Urban Entomology"
- Saturday, Jan. 12, from 1 to 4 p.m.: "Time's Fun When You're Studying Flies"
- Saturday, Feb. 16, times vary: (campuswide) Biodiversity Museum Day
- Saturday, March 9, 1 to 4 p.m., "Eight-Legged Wonders"
- Saturday, April 14, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., (campuswide) UC Davis Picnic Day