Friday, May 15, 2009

Many mantids

Housecleaning is not a high priority this time of year, to say the least. With the rainy spring we've had, the entryway has been a constant repository of barn and garden mud, along with boots, shoes, wet socks, dripping raincoats, buckets of tools that ran in from the rain with us, etc.

Over the past 12 years of farming, I've learned to turn a blind eye to dirt, when I'm on a mission, which is just about every time I go through the entryway. OK, OK, you're right, I'm ALWAYS on a mission of some sort. So since I don't just hang out in the entry way, I definitely don't pay attention to the dirt building up on the floor.

Unless it bleeds--like the time a friend's dog transported a million tiny seed ticks to the house, which promptly fell off and crawled s-l-o-w-l-y all over the floor, looking like little dirt specks until you stepped on them. Then the engorged little monsters popped like water balloons, leaving a trail of bloody spots across the white floor wherever a foot landed. One GOOD reason for a farmhouse to have white floors. On dark speckled floors, we would never have noticed the hoard of ticks until they hatched out a size larger in a few months, and devoured us in the middle of the night. What a horrible thought! A vacuum cleaner and mop took care of the problem, though that episode still gives me the heeby-jeebies.

Or when the little bits of grass clippings start walking, as they did tonight. HUH?

Apparently some bucket or pocket held a praying mantis egg case. I often find them (probaby a dozen or more just this spring in the garden) when I'm cutting down dead weeds in winter. They seem to like Lambsquarters, but will nest on trees, fence posts, or anything else. If the area where I find them is liable to get trodden a lot, or otherwise disturbed, I take them to safety elsewhere. This often means the barn, since I really never quite know where I want them. Thus the lambsuqarter patch in the barn is now home to dozens of tiny mantises.

On closer examination, the moving grass clippings were actually tiny mantises. I tried to get a photo, but my ancient digital camera seems to be dying a slow and painful death. I'm not sure it would have magnified them enough, anyhow. They are shaped exactly like the adults, but without developed wings, and only 1/2 inch long. Very, very cute.

But liable to starve in the entry way, not to mention being in grave danger of boots, shoes, wet socks, dripping raincoats, buckets of tools, etc.

Obviously they must go outdoors. But how? Watching the beekeeper move the swarm gave me a clue--I got the broom and dustpan and swept them up. They scurried around on the dustpan unharmed. When I tried to just pick one up in my fingers, I couldn't--they were so tiny and active.

These are the large triangular egg cases. There are also less common (or better hidden) oblong cases that are much smaller. Hopefully someday I'll be able to identify the cases and the mantises by name.

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