One of those items on my mental list of images to capture is the emergence of newborn mantises from their egg sac. I’ve gotten recently hatched nymphs a couple of times, but none ever emerging.

On spotting an egg sac near the pond in the park close by a few days ago, I found dangling debris, the shredded structure of the sac, that indicates the hatching has already occurred. Taking one last look, I found a nymph hanging onto the debris, and settled in for at least those pics. In observing its behavior and how the wind whipped the debris around, I eventually realized the mantis was actually caught, and may have been there for an unknown amount of time while the siblings simply dispersed into the tall grasses. Freeing an insect that’s a mere centimeter in length without injuring it is no easy task, but eventually I set it on its way, still dragging a bit of debris from one hind leg.

Now, last year’s residents led me to believe that there may be an egg sac hidden in the azalea bush right alongside the porch, and three times over the winter I examined the bush without finding anything. I have to say that the bushes, while small, are dense and notorious for capturing leaves, so I spent a lot of time determining that what I was seeing was just a leaf and not an egg sac. However, today I had it driven home that I’m not a Serious Sac Spotter, since a collection of nymphs (probably Chinese mantises, Tenodera aridifolia sinensis) was found clustered near the center of the bush.

I’m guessing, from the size and coloration, that they’ve been out for at least a few days, but since I haven’t yet followed any right from hatching, that’s just a guess. There are only a few flowers on the bush yet, so not enough really good backdrops, but they’ll be along. You can bet I’m going to be keeping an eye on the dewy mornings.

At this size, the mantis nymphs are very shy and not terribly fond of the camera looming overhead, so my attempts to get a nice portrait shot were met with each of my subjects turning away and heading deeper into the bush – this is the best I’ve gotten so far. That will eventually change, too; watch this space for more developments. By that time, the pine pollen that’s all over every damn thing here in central Carolina, staining everything from cars to pond surfaces a curious chartreuse, will have vanished, and won’t be peppered across my models.

The same bush hosted a few specimens of a pale green assassin bug (Zelus luridus,) only marginally longer than the mantises. They were less shy, but more bedeviled by the pollen. I was a little worried when I found one proboscis-deep in a fresh meal, since they’re just as insectivorous as the mantises and are likely to prey on one another, and the position it was in prevented me from getting a good view of the victim. Much as I try to be impartial, I still have favorites, and the mantises beat the assassins in my book. I was relieved to see that the meal was likely a lacewing nymph.

Also sharing the bush was a busy Eastern yellowjacket, I think (Vespula maculifrons) who was probably attracted by spills from the hummingbird feeder suspended directly above the bush. Provided I was in position and waited for its approach, I could get these nice frame-filling closeups, but if I tried leaning in myself, the bee got spooked and flew off, immediately returning to another section of the bush.

And finally, the one subject that wasn’t found on the same azalea, but perched conspicuously on a weed in the yard. The bright color attracted my attention, and the photos have done little to explain its appearance – near as I can tell, some twisted leaf managed to get wound around the abdomen of this fly. I may be wrong – this could be this season’s haute couture among the Muscidae, newly unveiled for spring. With a very close look, it appears the vegetation has actually bound the hind legs tight to the abdomen, and whether this had anything to do with my ability to get this close is anyone’s guess.

And yes, it feels good to get out of the winter slump and into some serious shooting again.

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