Praying Mantis Explosion

One of our babies

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.

The hitchhiking egg sack

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.

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9 responses to “Praying Mantis Explosion

  1. Give these guys 1 week of eating fruit flies, and then they are going to become a separate line item in the Herrenkohl family food budget.

  2. They are growing at an alarming rate. I may have to send the kids to the basement for spiders.

  3. “Oh boy, this is getting complicated.”

    Oh boy.

    But then I read the end, where the kids are sitting in front of the fish tank, fascinated and entertained (and learning biology) and it seems like a neat adventure. But boy is it getting complicated.

    • Hi Laurrie – things are getting even more complicated now that they have started eating each other. Yikes! We had 10, we’re down to 5. How to explain that to a 4 year old?? Complicated is right.

  4. you better get on ebay! Seriously though that must have been really interesting to watch. I’m soooo glad I read this post though b/c a few minutes ago, I sort of convinced myself that maybe I could ignore bugs enough get plants that I’d have to bring indoors at the end of the season. uh…no. What’s outdoors will always stay outdoors.

    • Hi Wendy – I’m a big ignorer too…my mom always told me you’re supposed to water your outdoor plants in a diluted bleach solution to kill all those critters you don’t want in. I never do, because I wouldn’t want to drink bleach. But even that wouldn’t have prevented our egg sack. That would have required serious attention to detail, a skill I lack. Jorge is the only plant that comes in for the winter. I’ve had him for 17 years, after having rescued him from a near death experience. He even moved cross country with us! I’ll deal with a few bugs for this guy.

  5. Dear Kelly, I am laughing so much my sides are aching! I pay good money for praying mantis and/or ladybugs to eat the aphids in my garden. My grandchildren love to watch me release them. However, usually within a day (or two if I’m lucky) they disappear to pastures new. Reading your post, who knew about the trials of raising the critters? (Don’t tell my grandchildren or they will want to do it.) P x

  6. 10 bucks? Seriously? Well, that would be a great little side business for the bug lover. This was so cute. The kids must be having a blast. That was very kindhearted of you to set up a little house for the babies. I wouldn’t be thrilled to discover them indoors but I wouldn’t be able to kill them either.

  7. Oooh, we need an update on how this went.

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