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)