Too cool, part 35: A modicum of success

newborn Chines mantis Tenodera sinensis peering from home twig
The praying mantids have been an ongoing saga on this blog now for several years, and if you want to call it an obsession, no argument from me. While I am definitely motivated to capture sequences and behavior of any species that I can, I happen to like mantids, and I’ve had the opportunities to bear close witness to them. So here we are again.

Not having found any distinctive evidence of local egg cases this spring or past fall, I had ordered three online, and set them up in prime locations within the yard where I could observe them easily; my goal has been to capture the hatching in great macro detail, something I haven’t quite accomplished yet. Two of the egg cases, unfortunately, fell victim to some marauding shithead, likely grey squirrels, so only one remained unscathed. And that one I noticed was hatching out just as I was dashing out the door on a tight schedule. When I’d returned, the hatching activity had stopped and a bunch of newborns were scampering around on the twig to which I’d affixed the egg case, and several nearby plants. Well, shit.

Oh, well. I settled for doing some shots of the newborns, out and about in the immediate vicinity of the egg case.

a cluster of newborn Chinese mantises Tenodera sinensis
Bear in mind that they measure just 10mm in body length at this point; this is using the wonderful Sigma 28-105 reversed, and is full-frame.

But here’s another, cropped a little to show off the detail better.

newborn Chinese mantis Tenodera sinensis showing fine detail
If the body is 10mm long, that would make the head about 1mm in width, and those tiny spikes on the forelegs… what? I’ll let you figure it out. Suffice to say that, despite the difficulty of working with a lens fixed at f16 (quite dark in the viewfinder) and with a working depth-of-field of 2mm or less, I’m quite happy with what it can accomplish.

And here’s a shot that demonstrates scale better:

newborn Chinese mantis Tenodera sinensis with millimeter scale and dime for comparison
For everyone familiar with US currency, that’s a dime in the photo.

The next day, I was delighted to find that a second wave of hatchings was taking place, and I managed to squeeze out a tiny bit of time to devote to it. Now, if you found the pics of the newborns creepy in any way, well, you ain’t seen nothing yet. This is where I have my fun.

Chinese mantids Tenodera sinensis newly emerged from egg sac ootheca
The one thing that I have not caught (and thus remains on the list) is the actual emergence from the egg sac; every time I’ve seen them soon afterward, but never actually coming to light for the first time. These two are examples, apparently not long from the event, but still well out into the open. Something that I determined a few years back is that mantids molt almost immediately upon hatching; the exoskeleton remains anchored to the sac by a fine webline, and they have to draw free and get use of their legs over a period of time, my guess is about ten to twenty minutes, judging from what I’ve seen. A lot of the threads can be seen in this image, and these two are still anchored even while mostly free from the exoskeleton.

Chinese mantis Tenodera sinensis drawing free from initial molting
This image is slightly confusing to me. While it appears to be drawing itself free from the old exoskeleton, thus the bound appearance with the legs and antennae gathered, two of the legs right at the top of the photo already appear to be free. It’s possible that the molt is only for the body itself, or even just the abdomen, but that doesn’t make sense to me. Questions still to be answered.

twp newly-emerged Chinese mantises Tenodera sinensis waiting to gain the use of their legs
What a wonderfully funky view. The bullet-headed appearance, especially with that bulging ‘forehead,’ is curious, and as yet I don’t have an answer for that either, just speculation (which we’ll get to.) And this shows a large collection of the molted and discarded exoskeletons, all that chaff between the two, with one dangling below the head of the mantis on the right – yes, they’re quite a bit smaller than the emerged mantids. Maybe it’s not a molting after all, but the arthropod equivalent of a yolk sac? I guess I could actually ask somebody…

But wait! There’s more!

Not too long ago, I picked up a camera body that could actually do video, and the preliminary tests with a macro lens were encouraging. So as this was happening, the system got its acid test, this time with the Mamiya 80mm macro and extension tube. So you not only get to see such exquisite detail, you now get to see all the writhing and creepiness in real time! Lucky you!

This is naturally my first time using a video editor and adding a voiceover track, and it will become more polished with time, so bear with me. But the results were better than expected and enough to convince me that macro video was not only feasible, but a useful addition to the skillset. Camera steadiness will be a distinct issue, however.

But if you thought that was bad, just try to imagine what kind of other shit I might find to video ;-)

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