I decided to try and answer a couple of questions raised in the post about the newborn mantids, so I went out and collected the debris that was still hanging from the egg sac, that the newborns had been suspended from immediately after emergence. The first thing to become apparent was that it hung from a webbing or silk of some sort, something that adhered to both the forceps and my fingers as I tried to deposit it into a film can (my handy collection bins.) Bear in mind that this is at high magnification, and appears to be nothing more than chaff, slightly larger than dandruff flakes – 3mm at best (thus much smaller than the mantids themselves.) Up close, I have become fairly certain these are actually molted exoskeletons, especially from the uniformity of the fragments. The emerging mantids seem to hang from a thread and split out of their skin, performing their first molt immediately after hatching to allow their legs to emerge. The pics I have of the hatching support this to a small extent, especially when examining the ones emerging from the egg sac, but I did not capture enough detail to see if any of them really were molting at the time.
Intrigued, I went down to the local park where I knew a few more egg cases could be found, this time with the full macro rig. The temperature is supposed to drop tonight and I expect this might delay any more hatchings for a bit, but I was hoping to catch one in the process before this happened. Short answer: not so far. I now know of about eight different egg cases, and only one has hatched – I was too late to see anything with that one. I will have plenty of opportunity to see more detail, provided I get my timing right.
Looking at our own egg sac again this morning, after having done the shot above last night, I found a new, smaller attachment of debris hanging from it. Only a minute or so of examining the bush confirmed my suspicions: a few more had hatched out three days after the initial emergence last Saturday. There’s lots of them around so spotting them for photos isn’t all that hard, but they’re extremely spooky about anything looming overhead, so actually getting close pics is pretty tricky. I got very lucky with these two, possibly because they were occupied with each other.
Not the pale coloration, and the dark eyes – these are a few hours old at best. Once again, these are about 10mm long overall, and you can even make out the mouth parts and those delightful little spikes along the forelegs, striking fear into the heart of any aphid around. I might have to try collecting one gently and doing some detailed studio shots, if I can convince it to hold still halfway decently – that’s likely to be a challenge. Earlier today I had coaxed one onto my finger, but it clearly found this Terra incognita and soon hopped off back onto the bush before I could get off a shot (I had anticipated this kind of reaction and hadn’t moved my hand away from the bush.) Even in a controlled setting, I may have a hard time getting a decent portrait.
And no, no bebby black widows yet. I’ll keep you posted.