Sunday, October 12, 2008

Shagrat's Graduation Party

Shagrat the 1st, so named after an orc of like coloring from Lord of the Rings, the last of this year's mantises, was let go today, and neither presidential candidate was present -- however, there was a vampire squirrel nearby, and it being the daytime, it was in a reasonable frame of mind, chirping loudly on the fence whilst consuming a nut -- and this served as well as anything as a commencement speech. The speech was about storing nuts and finding them later, and mantises don't do that, but the speech was well received nonetheless.

Shagrat is graduating with a PhD in Mantis Mathematics from the FreePhD program at Backyard University, and looks forward to a pursuing a career in crispy crunchy crickets, and has no immediate plans to become a vegetarian, (though it has been under consideration).

Here is a picture backstage of Shagrat on my arm, just prior to the ceremony.

Things got a little out of control at backyard university this year, and these monster cosmos and other assorted flora served as graduation wildflowers.

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Tuesday, September 2, 2008


A couple of poses - the picture below shows how the manti sometimes hang out with their arms fully extended:

In this shot, we see the bizarre phenomena of me trying to figure out a way to give a drink of water to a mantis who seemed to need a bit of help. So I put a drop of water on the underside of the bamboo skewer and it went to town with its ten or so tongues or whatever it has. Ask Wikipedia about that, not me.

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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Gorbag on the Rampage

Gorbag is now 3 inches long and is not as much of a spaz as Shagrat, but is having fun. It's very interesting to see the finer detail of the manti as they get larger.

Gorbag's behavior hasn't changed necessarily too much, but he just looks a little bit more like an alien. If you click to see the larger version of the picture you may be able to see the little black "dots" in the eyes -- the pupils?

(click picture to see a larger version)

For those of you who might remember old school Star Wars figures, this picture is for scale. Gorbag likes going on walks in the park with the Tusken Raider.

(click picture to see a larger version)

Here is the crafty brute eyeing a cricket down below. The apple is for moisture (as is the ear thing doodlie - cotton swab?)

(click picture to see a larger version)

Gorbag seems to be curious - cautious - it's hard to tell what they are "looking" at - how far their vision goes - the range seems to go further as they get bigger - but I think their vision is probably ideal for small squiggly things at close range. And sometimes they just sit still and don't move, if something large comes by them - but if a little tiny bug wriggles by, they'll track it, swiveling their head to a new position.

(click picture to see a larger version)

The "stance" varies - sometimes when observing, the front arms are tucked in -- once in awhile they stretch them out straight - but relatively powerful - with sort of fine toothed "combs" on the inner edges, to hold onto prey.

(click picture to see a larger version)

They balance themselves with the two pairs of back long legs -- at the very tips, are very tiny "grippers" - they must be small hairs, or something like that - so they'll inch forward, and hold on to whatever they were last touching with their hind legs, and then bring them forward.

(click picture to see a larger version)

They also seem to have distinct markings on the inner part of their forelegs.

And Gorbag seems to behave a little differently than Shagrat, or Ugluk - Shagrat will move very very fast, and is quite aggressive - Gorbag is pretty chill (but can also move fast).

(click picture to see a larger version)

The abdomen seems to be about the same size relative to the head, getting larger. And typically the two small antennae will slowly quiver a bit, and sometimes move in the direction of touching/testing things.

(click picture to see a larger version)

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Ugluk, Gorbag and Shagrat

Sorry it's been so long; a lot has happened in the past month. The second generation of mantises grew up; some passed on into the otherworld, I let others go, some survived.

Grishnak, the valiant warrior of the first generation, fell prey to something, a microbe perhaps.

But Ugluk, Gorbag and Shagrat are coming along, and I'm working on finding a way to make video - difficult they being so small. But evidently a macro lens is the way to go.

And it turns out the 2nd generation is about at the stage the first generation was at in the last blog entry.

Here is Ugluk, just after having shed his exoskeleton (you can click on the picture to see a larger version).

They come out lighter in color. Some of the mantises actually kicked the bucket when shedding their first exoskeleton -- I remember a few weeks ago being in the ridiculous position of thinking I could somehow try to help one of the mantises -- with no magnifying glass I was attempting, as gently as possible, to help free it.

At any rate, the hardy orc mantises have made it to a larger stage.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Grishnak Sheds his Second Exoskeleton

So the little monster is getting bigger now. And it appears that the manti are sort of gooped up in their exoskeleton, and when they shed it, they expand? Shuddery memories of goopy aliens from the original Alien movie?

Because when the manti first emerge from the egg case, evidently they chill initially, to let their exoskeletons harden. I guess it is a little like an egg. You boil an egg, then peel it. Only this time, when the egg is peeled, the egg expands, and forms another shell.

There has to be a better analogy.

But I get home from work, too late to do anything particularly meaningful in regards to the dissertation and other insundries -- so I tend to the sunflowers, and start checking in on the new manti -- and last but not least, there is Grishnak -- but wait -- something is different.

Here you can see Grishnak, upper left, and the exoskeleton -- and he was still connected to it. The pictures were a little hard to get right, but you get the idea.

A different attempt, with a bit of scale added in:

Monday, July 7, 2008

Holiday Weekend Roundup

The big news is that the 2nd egg case hatched. I didn't quite get a clear photo, but you can at least get a sense of how the mantis nymphs emerge from the case and kind of hang off of it.

And Grishnak, the eldest mantis from the 1st egg case, is up to his old tricks again. Remember thy can clickest on the picture to see closer.

Grishnak is as fond as his Orc cousins to standing on castle ramparts.

Looking off into the distance to defend the castle from invading Visigoths, Vandals, Ostrogoths, Saxons, etc.

This next close-up is a bit scary actually. Grishnak looks ready for business.

I guess Grishnak got bored between photo shoots and had to lick is paws, or foreceps, or whatever he has. Geez.

In this shot, Grishank is helping to train a recruit from the local nunnery to throw boiling oil on Visigothic ants.

Grishnak is naturally interested in science, and enjoys conversing with Albert Einstein on a regular basis.

Chilling with Albert.

Grishnak practicing maneuvers with a soldier from the nano-robot regiment.

I'm not sure praying mantises, even very small young praying mantises, can be considered "cute" -- on the other hand, Grishnak appears to think he is cute.

I can't really figure out what Gman is doing in this picture. I think maybe pretending to be a dog.

There he goes again, pausing between photos for grooming. Man, the things you have to go through to deal with insect talent these days.

The Praying Mantis - Friend of Sunflower

(copied over from June 16th entry of Sunflower Report 2.0)

Ok, so I wanted to try raising praying mantises before I made the connection that the mantis is the friend of the sunflower — but that’s really cool — and it is true that praying mantises are voracious insect eaters.

I happened to be at a store called American Science and Surplus, a wonderful, dangerous place, with parts and odds and ends and some scientific and biological doodads from time to time — and I couldn’t help but notice a praying mantis “kit” from Worlds Alive. Then about a year later I got it out and actually ordered the mantis egg case — hmmm, about 2 months ago — and the first egg case was a dud — but they sent me another.

The package below is what you get in the mail — just an egg case — and then there’s the brochure from the original kit.

But if/when this second egg case actually results in praying mantises, then it will make for some interesting shenanigans.

Since you were kind enough to read this blog post, you might also enjoy taking a peek at — a game that a student from a class I taught last year created.

Over the course of the summer I suppose I’ll dig into the digital archives and dust off some of the ideas that were floating around my head last fall and winter for sunflower, mantis and other “characters”. And then it will become a little clearer. And I’ll categorize this entry as a “Pronkle” entry; and gradually things will start to make sense.

But just so you don’t think I’m kidding, here is a preview of one of the characters, “Grond” — basically a 3d drawing by Alexandra Constantin (who is a wonderful 3d artist, and who is available for freelance). And Grond, or Grondlet, was inspired by the sunflower of the same name from last summer. (see

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Grishnak Sheds His Exoskeleton!

Insects such as praying mantises have exoskeletons, which is basically an outer shell, made up of a material called chitin. And if I understand things correctly, mantises shed their exoskeletons 5-6 times in the course of their lifetime.

But I had no idea how much larger the mantis would be simply upon exiting the exoskeleton -- it was almost as if the mantis had been squeezed inside it, popped out, and was sort of balloon like for awhile until the new shell hardened.

This next picture is upside down, through the jar, but it was really interesting to see the mantis and exoskeleton next to each other.

The mantis seemed to be a lighter color.

And here is the exoskeleton.


This green container is what came with the original Worlds Alive Mantis Kit; it's nice, has clear plastic on two sides, and the other two sides have cloth that breathe -- then there's carrying handles.

So in my case the egg case had been dormant for so long, I thought it was a dud -- so they sent another -- and a day or two after that, the original egg case hatched. So I actually have a second time around to work with.

Originally I just attached the egg case to a stick, and set it on the bottom surface of the habitat, but I read that sometimes initially the mantis nymphs hang upside down from the egg case initially, so this time I wanted to "elevate" the egg case.

I had found a really simple kit for making a tiny wooden model fort, and already had this in the habit as an act of silliness -- so I found a way to attach the egg case to the "flag".

This is a close-up of the egg case. It's a kind of foamy, styrofoam material. I had to overcome the heebie jeebies in order to even hold it, with memories of the movie Aliens buried in my subconscious. Aliens, the original 1986 version -- was the only movie that actually ever scared the bajoojy out of me. So somewhere inside I have a squiggly, squirmy reaction to insects -- not when I look at them -- but at the prospect of actually touching them.

But it wasn't so bad; so a bread tie seemed to work to fasten the egg case -- then I taped it to the "flag" -- which could just as easily be a stick or something. Not sure if the egg case really needs to be elevated, but it might be fun if/when this second egg case hatches, to give the manti something to crawl down on for a photo opportunity.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Behind the Scenes

Chuck Isdale, photographer extraordinaire, didn't hesitate to take the camera where no camera has gone before. One step forward for all mantiskind.

One habitat initially for Grishnak (named after a curmudgeonly orc in Lord of the Rings), was the vial that the egg case came in -- there's a cotton swab in there and I used an eyedropper to drop some moisture on it, and there's a piece of apple for additional moisture and for the fruit flies.

This is another habitat -- I saw that the top of the vial with the egg case was open, and had a piece of fabric to let it breathe -- so I remembered that "canning jars" sometimes have tops with holes in them; so I took an old dish towel, cut it up -- so the top of the jar is an open circle, then there's the fabric. The cotton ball is for dropping moisture, apple's for the fruit flies.

Sometimes its hard to see the manti in a jar like this clearly, but if you move it around, you can see. It might be easier to use something like a peanut butter jar, put some fabric on top, and use a rubber band.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Manti Have Hatched!

This morning, the praying mantis egg case hatched unexpectedly!

Theoretically the small nymphs are letting their exoskeletons harden. Quite a number of nymphs emerged from the egg case but it's not clear how many will survive. We'll see.

Here's some shots of one of the little monsters in waiting. now about an inch long, or less, perhaps a half inch. Someday the survivors will grow to be 6-8" inches in length, and eat a lot of insects along the way.

(click on the pictures to see larger versions - special thanks to Chuck Isdale for photos.)

When the nymphs are new they are pretty chill.

(click on the picture for a larger view)

It's the strangest thing to see such a small likeness of the eventual monster.

(click on the picture for a larger view)

Another perspective. You can kind of make out the bulbous eyes.

(click on the picture for a larger view)

It almost looks like a mosquito -- but there are the little arms out front. And by golly the insects in the garden this year will hopefully have some manti to keep them away from the sunflowers!

(click on the picture for a larger view)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Eggs Have Arrived!

Today the mantis egg case and some separate vials with wingless fruit fly culture arrived.