Booie, the littlest and, frankly, weediest of our latest mantis army, died quietly in the night a few days ago. In accordance with mantis tradition, his body was devoured by crickets.
In what’s becoming an Alcott family tradition, the death of the weakest mantis is a signal that the others’ days are numbered, and the survivors should be released into the wild, where they might mate and create another mantis army to menace the insects of tomorrow. The liberation ceremony for Ceiling and Snacks was held this morning on our front porch.
Pick me up! Pick me up! shouts Ceiling from the depths of the carrier she shares with Giant Black African Millipede.
Snacks, out in the open air, taking his first look at the big, wide world, where, theoretically anyway, there are many insects for him to devour.
Meanwhile Ceiling, getting a whiff of the liberty that is the divine right of all mantids, tries to climb the sheer plexiglass walls of her enclosure.
“What is this strange thing I’m perched upon?” asks Snacks — his first encounter with Nature. Shortly after this photo was taken, Kit (5) asked if she could try to pick him up one last time, or “do you think he’s wild already?”
Out of her enclosure and a little spooked by the wide open spaces, Ceiling goes into a defensive “put up your dukes” pose. Note the super-aggressive “scorpion tail.”
The crickets did not miss out — predator and prey each gained their freedom on this day.
Ceiling, still asking for trouble, crouches on Sam’s hand and, like Sean Penn, dares the photographer to approach — for a fist full of knuckles.
Once on a leaf, Ceiling visibly relaxes. “I could get used to this,” says the enormous, voracious, meat-eating predator. Crickets of Santa Monica. YOU ARE DOOMED.
How my pretties have grown! It seems like just yesterday (but was actually more like eight weeks ago) they were teeny tiny little things. Ceiling shed her (I’ve decided she’s a her)latest skin yesterday, and is now ginormous. She looks like she could eat Snacks for snacks. Meanwhile, li’l Booie has gotten big enough to catch adult crickets.
This calls for a change in housing assignments! Booie, straining against the confinement of his yogurt container, has been moved to the “green terrarium,” which was, until recently, the prime domain of Snacks. Snacks, meanwhile, has been promoted to the larger “white terrarium”, where he will, no doubt, enjoy eating the crickets left behind by Ceiling. Ceiling, meanwhile, queen of all mantids as far as I’m concerned, has moved into the enormous five-gallon “black terrarium,” and has a roommate, namely, the Giant Black African Millipede. The Giant Black African Millipede is a strict vegetarian, so Ceiling should be able to escape his wrath. Plus, the Millipede mostly lives under his log and Ceiling lives, well, guess where. Ceiling, for her part, I cannot imagine will try to take a swipe at the Millipede, which is about ten times larger than her and has heavy body armor to boot. Mostly, I doubt either one will know the other is there.
Booie stretches out in his swanky new digs.
Snacks contemplates his newly inherited crickets. Soon they will be in his belly.
Ceiling looks a little overwhelmed by the rapturous splendor of her new home.
Giant Black African Millipede has no comment.
I caught Booie in the act of shedding his skin this afternoon. He’s a little blurry in this picture, because he’s swinging back and forth trying to wriggle out of his old skin. His old-skin feet are attached to the ceiling of his container. Eagle-eyed readers will note that it seems he has at least eight legs. The three disappearing out the top of the photo are his old-skin legs, the four sticking out from his sides are his new-skin legs. You can see his old tail-skin curling up like a new-year’s-eve party favor as he struggles to get his body out of the confines of his old skin. At bottom, his head is a blur as he swings himself to and fro. His front paws are in the “praying” position.
Seconds later: plop! He’s escaped from his old skin and now lies, helpless and rubbery, on the floor of his yogurt container. I was a little concerned for him for a few minutes, because it’s quite unlike any of my mantises to lie face down in the dart like this, but I knew that they are often a little weak after the big struggle of escaping their old skin. And look how fresh and minty green his new skin is!
Here’s his old skin, now empty of mantis. This is, I believe, Booie’s fourth skin-switch — they seem to go through a skin a week. Which I guess is easier than taking a bath.
As Booie was recovering from his skin-shedding, Brown Behemoth Ceiling nabbed another cricket. He’s a real outlaw savage now and has had at least three crickets in the past 24 hours. I got this shot as he was in the act of beheading this little fella. Pinocchio will have togo without a conscience and Buddy Holly will be singing solo — this cricket is reserved for dinner.
The 3-inch green monster in picture 2 is Snacks, and this photo has caught him in a rare aggressive pose. Moments before taking this picture, I had put his first adult cricket into his house. Snacks immediately went ballistic — he curled his tail up like a scorpion and “put up his dukes” as you see in the picture. He took several rage-filled swipes at the cricket but could not land a blow — the cricket kept hiding behind sticks and leaves. This made Snacks absolutely apoplectic — he stood in this position for several minutes, hunt-and-kill chemicals flooding through his brain, claws in a rictus of preparation, even after the cricket had moved on to less dangerous areas of the 4×2″ container Snacks lives in. Snacks was so predatory that when I put my hand in his container to try to move the cricket back into his line of vision he attacked me! I’ve never actually been attacked by a mantis before, normally the most aggressive they get is that they climb up on my hand to try to get out of their container. But Snacks lashed out at me as though I were a soft, juicy cricket smaller than himself and I felt what Jackson Publick would no-doubt call The Grip Of The Mantis! Now, Snacks is, as I say, only three inches long and a stick-like insect, so I was never really in any danger, but for a split second I knew how it felt to be a cricket. (We have since made up.)
The pint-sized 1.5-inch pipsqueak in picture 3 is our old pal Booie, still the runt and still bringing up the rear. Booie just recently made the jump from fruit-flies to baby crickets, and is something of a picky eater. The other two will go pouncing after whatever I put inside their containers, but Booie will let a baby cricket hop happily around his container for days before deciding to go ahead and eat it. I’m thinking that perhaps he’s secretly a vegetarian.
More mantisy goodness below the fold.
I’ve noticed that their eyes change color from moment to moment, depending, I think, on the light and their mood. Sometimes their eyes will be solid black, sometime they will be solid green (or brown), and sometimes they will have little dots of black in their otherwise solid-green (or brown) eyes. Here we see Ceiling, who has developed into a fine brown mantis, in the middle of enjoying a bite of cricket. If you have the nerve to click on the picture, you’ll be able to see that he is sucking out a big bubble of cricket-blood and, in fact, his mouth is full of it at the moment, his mandible wide and his head swelled with the intake, as his eyes turn green with blood-lust.
This moody nightscape shows Snacks after he’s finally nabbed his cricket and is in the process of instructing it in the ways of the food chain. You can’t see it that clearly here, but Snacks’s eyes have gone from almost-entirely minty-green to a bulging black.
Here, Snacks pauses in his dinner to give the camera his very best cute-puppy-dog look.
“You lookin’ at me?” His dinner completed, Ceiling addresses his provider and asks “You want a piece a me? I just ate a cricket bigger than my head, you want a piece a me?” (Please note that Ceiling, and Snacks before him, are shown hanging from the ceilings of their enclosures. The pictures have been rotatedto reduce feelings of vertigo.
They grow up so fast.
Ceiling, Snacks and Booie are all doing splendidly — Ceiling and Snacks have each shed yet another skin and are over an inch long now. Booie seems to be the runt of the litter — he’s still on his second skin, is not yet green and tends to stay on the lower levels of his terrarium, instead of seeking the high ground where the hunting is better.
Suspecting that Booie might flourish if given his own territory, I moved Ceiling out of the yogurt container and put him into the large white terrarium. I then moved Booie into the yogurt container, leaving Snacks to dominate the green terrarium.
The fruit flies were disappearing at an alarming rate and I contemplated beginning the mantises on baby crickets. Snacks and Booie had taken to non-chalantly snagging fruit flies with a single paw, chewing on them like they were bubble-gum cigars, and I knew that was no kind of life for what Wikipedia calls “a notorious predator.” But were my boys (I have no idea what sex they are) big enough for baby crickets? This was the question on my mind as I entered the pet store on Wilshire.
Yes! The answer turned out to be. The moment I shook the baby crickets into their terrariums Snacksand Ceiling each nabbed one apiece, chowing down on them like they were ears of corn — wriggling, multi-legged ears of tasty, tasty corn.
(Booie I’m keeping on fruit flies for now — to be honest, I’m a little worried about him. One of the reasons I wanted to separate him from Snacks was in case Snacks got tired of fruit flies one day and started looking around for prey that was a little more, mm, challenging.)
More mantisy goodness after the cut.
At the top of the page is Ceiling, in his new terrarium, perched like a lion atop Pride Rock, silhouetted against the lush Santa Monica landscape he calls his home, or would if he lived in it. Next is Snacks, chowing down on his cricket in his preferred position, hanging upside down from his netting (picture is rotated to reduce vertigo). Finally, Ceiling again as he naturally appears, not silhouetted against anything, but standing out boldly against the Kleenex box his terrarium overlooks.
I happened to catch Snacks as he shed his second skin — his second in a week! In the first image, he’s just emerging from his old skin. (The photo is not upside-down, Snacks is — most mantises prefer hanging upside-down, as it gives them a better view of their hunting grounds.) In the second, you see Snacks’s roomie Booie swooping in for a quick, er, snack. The size difference, as you can see, is dramatic, and will be until Booie sheds his skin again.
The two dozen or so mantises that we kept from the last batch have, er, “sorted things out” between them and we are now left with three robust, healthy specimens: Ceiling, so-called because of his habit for living on the ceiling of his container, Booie, named after a friend’s dog, and Snacks, who, well, I don’t know where his name came from. The one pictured above is Ceiling. Each has had his or her first “skin shedding” and is turning from brown to green. As you can see, they are still less than an inch long after a couple of weeks of devouring fruit flies as quickly as they can catch them.
Because you demanded it (wait, didn’t you demand it?) the Alcott family has taken it upon itself to raise another army of mantises. The first of two (two!) egg sacs hatched yesterday and we freed most of them into the garden to devour insects smaller than themselves, but kept a dozen or so to cavort in a tiny terrarium. The result — baby pictures! Each mantis is about 2cm long. Click to see mantid cuteness closer up.
Since posting the splendid news about Brownie’s new wings, one of the other mantises, Gimpy, has shuffled off his mortal coil and joined the choir invisible. Gimpy, the reader will guess, had a bum leg for the last month or so of his life and frankly I’m surprised he made it as far as he did. But his death sort of pressed the issue of a mantis’s normal life span and what we, as responsible pet owners, should do now.
Brownie and Hoppy both seemed still sturdy and curious about life, so we have decided to roll the dice and hope that one is a male and the other a female, and have let them go forth into the garden, just like Adam and Eve (except in Santa Monica) to live out the rest of their lives in natural suburban splendor.
We had a little ceremony where we took the lids off their Critter-Keepers and let them roam around on the patio table. Sam and Kit called out words of encouragement like “Make a nice big egg sac, and bring back hundreds of baby mantises in the Spring!” and “I love you Hoppy! Have a good life!” I felt like singing “Born Free” but it probably would have made everyone cry. We wanted to take pictures but the camera battery was dead after a long wedding reception the day yesterday (the wedding was for some humans we know, not mantises).
After delivering our exhortations to Brownie and Hoppy on what we hope to be their wedding day, we carried them over into the bushes and put them well into the brush to keep them from getting eaten by birds. Brownie didn’t seem too keen to go, but then a moth fluttered by and, no joke, she charged off after it like a cheetah gunning for an antelope.
Take care, Brownie! Go get ‘em, Hoppy!
We named this mantis Brownie because he suddenly turned brown one day. The change was so sudden that we all assumed he was about to roll over and croak. We were wrong! Brownie has not only stayed alive, he’s gotten bigger! He is now the largest of all the mantises we have and, what’s more, he’s suddenly grown wings! Show us your wings, Brownie!
Here you can not only see his wings, you can see him lick what I can only imagine are cricket-guts off his foot. Cleanliness is next to insect-like behavior, Brownie!
There’s a slightly better shot of his wings. It’s hard to hold a mantis with one hand and take a picture with the other. Anyway, he’s gotten huge, as you can see, and he’s ready to take on flying insects! No place is safe from this winged menace!