Friday, April 6, 2012

Our Home Will Be a House of Prayer...(ing) Mantises!

Mom and Dad have a huge, very bountiful garden. They work very hard to keep everything organic - no chemical pesticides or anything like that. One of the things that Dad decided to try this year is to introduce some beneficial insects. He even played the little scientist/detective text message picture game with the boys to "help" him figure out what kind of bugs he's planning to get. And  they had so much fun with that...that Dad asked if it would be okay if he had a couple of praying mantis egg cases shipped to our house. Well of course!! :)

So during Spring Break, we got a couple of egg cases in the mail. The paperwork said that each case held 150-300 eggs. (Holy moly, up to 600 babies?!) We should (very carefully) sew them onto a stick,

put them in a habitat with some sticks and leaves,

mist them with a little water every couple of days,

...and just wait. The babies (called nymphs) should hatch in 28-45 days. Dad's paperwork said that they would hatch in 2-3 months. Someone else told him 2-3 weeks. So basically, we didn't have any idea when they would hatch. (Or if they would at all.)

Well...only 16 days later, Yogi sent us another detective picture. Was it a katydid? Or a mosquito? No wait - it's a baby praying mantis nymph!!!!! They had hatched! (Before Mom and Dad were ready - they didn't have a lid on their jar, so they had to catch all their little nymphs all over their living room! :) So sweet, sweet Yogi and BooBoo brought us some of their babies a couple of days later. They were pretty tiny - but mostly still and not too fast, and they couldn't fly. The boys were in love.

Now, Yogi got these little guys intending to let them loose in the garden. But we wanted to keep a few of them for a few days. But what would we feed them? Back to the paperwork...and it said to feed them flightless fruit flies. Fruit fly cultures could be purchased at your local pet store. Well, not at our local pet store. :/ And it was too late in the day to try to go anywhere else. So Bret selflessly went out and caught a couple of mosquitoes. Then we got to watch our little guys catch and eat those nasty mosquitoes. Awesome!

As it turns out, the pet store in south Fort Worth didn't have fruit fly cultures either. And neither did the next closest one after that. We ended up going to Arlington to get our lovely little fruit fly culture. (Thank goodness for this age of internet and phones so that I was able to figure all of that out in just a matter of minutes!)

So what, you ask, is a fruit fly culture?  Good question! That's what I wanted to know, too. It's a (nasty) little jar containing some blue "medium," a net, and fruit flies at varying stages of life. You see, fruit flies go through a metamorphosis similar to a butterfly:

"Larva" my foot. Those nasty little things are maggots. And I just bought a jar full of them. Oh, the things I find myself doing for these boys...

The cultures are supposed to have fruit flies at all stages. But all we had were maggots. We watched and waited and watched and waited, but no fruit flies. So we caught a few more mosquitoes...

In the meantime, Dad had said that his paperwork told him to make sure that his egg case was in the sun. So after we put the nymphs that he brought us into the habitat, we moved the whole thing to a window.

Then two days later when I woke up, I heard a strange little clicking/rustling sound. It took me a few minutes to figure out where it was coming from...but when I did, it was quite a sight. Our egg cases had hatched!

It's hard to tell from the picture just how many there were. Here's a little video...which still doesn't do it justice, but you might be able to hear the clicking sound (which I think was the sound they made when they fell off the netting onto the floor of the habitat):

I knew the boys would be excited, so we didn't tell them until after they had eaten breakfast and were dressed and ready for school. They didn't disappoint!

So of course, we put a few of them in a smaller container for Conner and Micah to take to school and show off. (About a week after we got our egg cases, Conner came home saying that his class had gotten some, too. He was really excited that ours had hatched first!) And then we just had to get a few out and play with them!

...and then Griffin got to our house, and he got to join in the fun, too. :)

Josiah played and played and played with those bugs! He named one "Prayn." You know, like "prayn mantis." ;) Except he lost that one. In the house. (That's what I get for letting them play with bugs in the house, right? I figure, of all bugs to be lost in the house, little Prayn wasn't too bad.) So he got out another one - still named Prayn. And he lost that one, too. In the house. I didn't let him play with any more in the house after that. And I really hoped Prayn and Prayn would return the favor and eat any other bugs they might find in my house...

A little later, Josiah got out another Prayn and played with him outside. Prayn III even got to go down the slide a few times!

...until Josiah lost him, too. Not in the house! ;) After that we decided that, since Josiah was so good at letting Prayn go anyway, he should just go ahead and start letting all the other ones go. We couldn't just dump them - they kind of stick to the netting. So we pulled them out one by one, and Josiah let them go on his "hot biscuit" tree.

But he got tired of that pretty quickly. So we worked on it some more that evening. Well...Bret and I did. Micah stayed in the house - he said he was too sad to watch. He'd rather just look at the ones we kept and pretend we didn't let any of them go. Conner and Josiah for some reason decided that it was more fun to sit on the porch and be mosquito bait, trying to catch some more mosquitoes for the nymphs we were keeping. Weirdos.

After the boys went to bed that night, I got the show and tell container ready for Josiah to take to school. One stick, both egg cases (so that the kids could see what they came out of), and I thought I'd let Josiah help me pick a couple of Prayn's in the morning. Luckily, Bret went ahead and put the lid on it before he went to bed...because the next morning, there were more! Apparently only one of the eggs cases had hatched yesterday. Holeeeee moleeeee.

So Josiah got to take several hundred Prayns for show and tell.

...and we started the work of letting them go as soon as we got home from school that day - before the mosquitoes got too bad! We put them on the hot biscuit tree and several other trees right by our house.

And then we ventured a little further and put a few on Mr. Ron and Mrs. Debbie's peach and pear trees. We like to eat off of those trees, so hopefully those little nymphs will help keep bad bugs away from the growing fruits!

Wowee zowee. Thanks, BooBoo and Yogi for such a fun experiment! (And wonderfully successful - we had hundreds of little nymphs before we were even expecting them!) We're excited to be watching for all of those hundreds of little guys when we go out to play, and to see what the 13 we kept will do. (I can't believe I'm saying this, but hopefully we'll get some fruit flies to hatch soon...) Little nymphs, you guys eat up! Take care of all those hot biscuits, peaches, and pears for us! (And all the berries and veggies in BooBoo and Yogi's garden, too!)
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Lydia said...

So fun!!!! Great story and memories!

Rachel said...

such a vivid and fun thing to do! you inspire me!

Bonnie said...

It has been a really fun and learning (for me, too!) experience. Your dad (Yogi) is absolutely the best!