My four children try weekly to chip away at the “no pets” policy in force in my home. For goodness sake, I have four children. For how many more living things am I to be held responsible? I admit that I allowed a chink in my armor when the fish came home from 1st grade. These free guppies have exhibited true resilience given that my now nine-year-old is responsible for cleaning the water weekly (more like monthly) and given that we tend to forget to make other arrangements when we go out of town. They’re survivors. Still I hold firm: no pets.
But what would you do in the following situation? Friday night, I was rearranging the furniture in my living room. (Wow. I just reread that sentence. Please give me a moment.) I glanced at the wall next to Jorge the ficus tree. It was covered with bugs. Fifty bugs? One hundred? Over a hundred bugs on my living room wall? My husband joined me in looking more closely and we realized that our living room had recently seen the delivery of a whole mess of baby praying mantises. They were about a quarter of an inch long and perfectly formed. The triangular head, the long stick body, the praying arms. Sure enough, I rifled through Jorge’s leaves and there it was, an empty praying mantis egg sack. Jorge summers in the garden and passes his winter cozy and warm inside with us. Cozy and warm + praying mantis egg sack = hatched praying mantis egg sack. Instead of incubating through the winter outside as nature intended, our babies were forced to hatch in January instead of May.
My husband and I had the same reaction. We can’t kill them, can we? It had been ingrained from both of our childhoods: praying mantises are precious. Let them be. I rejoice to find a full fledged mama chowing down on the insects in my garden. The babies won’t survive outside now, in January. Can we keep them alive for four months until it’s warm enough? We can’t keep all of them, surely, but could we try for a small litter?
And so, we two anti-pet activists collected 8 of them and vacuumed up the rest. We put them in a jar with some celery and some ficus leaves. Then we got online to figure out how to keep them. (This all before we called the kids to take a look. Problematic, to be sure). Live bugs is what they need. Aphids, preferably, when they are in the infant stage. Where am I going to get aphids in January? We took the advice of a blogger in our same predicament: we hung raw hamburger meat from a string and encountered no opposition. Reading further, other advice criticized the raw meat approach, pointing out that praying mantises are hunters and must practice their hunting skills if they are ever to survive in the wild. Oh boy, this is getting complicated.
Two trips to the pet store and a borrowed 10-gallon tank later, we have 10 (the kids caught two who were in hiding during the vacuum scourge) quickly growing, active miniature mantises. I finally found a meal that appealed. Flightless fruit flies. My four year old and I just spent 30 minutes watching the hunt. Choosing entomological observation over television – a triumph. I’m afraid we might have to apply a rating system if we get these guys to the mating stage. Decapitation as a necessary part of the act. Brutal. And probably rated R for violence and some sexual content.
My friend from Germany says that praying mantis adults are sold as pets there for one hundred euros. I just found them online for the bargain basement price of $10 each. But even at that rate, the praying mantises in my tank are worth $100. And the ones in my vacuum bag?? A grand, easy.