Closer than last year

… or the previous one, for that matter.

I’d mentioned earlier that I’d primed the yard with egg cases of the Chinese mantis (Tenodera sinensis) – seven of them, to be exact – and this morning I found the first of them had produced progeny. Unfortunately, I was a bit late in discovering this, since no mantids were emerging as I observed the case, and a few dozen at least were scampering among the rosemary leaves where I’d placed the egg case. Nonetheless, I was prepared with stills and video this time, even if there wasn’t a tremendous amount to capture in video.

newborn Chinese mantises Tenodera sinensis among rosemary leaves
The weather was great for this, if not a tad too hot and bright, but this was certainly better than rain or overcast skies. And I’d thoughtfully placed the branch that the egg case was attached to within a small gap in the rosemary bush, so I had a reasonably clear path to get close. It was still a little tricky, given the macro softbox, but nothing too serious.

dorsal view of newborn Chinese mantis Tenodera sinensis still clambering on egg case ootheca
Those little yellow specks on the eyes, among other places, are pine pollen that’s all over every damn thing this time of year.

A brief rundown for those few who haven’t memorized everything that I’ve ever said in posts: mantises emerge from the egg case in a form more resembling a worm than anything else, and slowly unfold their limbs over a period of many minutes, but also appear to perform an initial molt within the first hour or so, with the exoskeleton being anchored to the egg case by ultra-fine threads. These molted skins are left to dangle from the case like chaff, and are often the best indication that a hatching has taken place, given how small the newborns are. Some of them can be seen in this image.

And occasionally, those very fine threads tangle up the newborns as well, though I suspect today’s gusty winds had a little to do with it. There appeared to be two that suffered this fate, out of dozens or hundreds that emerged, and this is how the species deals with the high mortality rate of the pre-adults; as long as one or two survive to reproduce and pass along the genes, the purpose has been served.

newborn Chinese mantis Tenodera sinensis appearing to be tangled in exoskeleton remains
We humans protect our young, but many other species cannot actually do this (it would have required overwintering of the adults, and that’s a radical change in physiology,) so they do the next best thing and increases the odds with lots of babies. In a few months, it will be down to a mere handful.

But let’s get to the video.

First note: for the egg case clips, I was on a newly-modified tripod that I made strictly (okay, mostly) for macro work, and it served pretty damn well, but for the upper reaches of the rosemary, I could get close enough without disturbing the branches, so I was shooting freehand, thus the instability. The video that I got three years ago was admittedly better, but it’s all a matter of timing and availability – none of the egg cases from two years ago (that I’d purchased) even hatched, and last year I missed all of the hatchings with a bad work schedule, so I’m taking what I can get.

Now here’s a closeup of the one I tried to rescue:

newborn Chinese mantis Tenodera sinensis with legs entangled in molts and threads
Note that this is before I made any attempt at all, having clipped the threads that it hung from and set it on the camera bag; the ballistic nylon fabric gives a good indication of scale. But the legs could only get that way because they were still soft and flexible from the emergence.

While I was at this, I asked The Girlfriend to shoot a few images of me to illustrate just what it took to get these closeups, and so, at the risk of scaring everyone off, I make another rare appearance within.

The author with his macro rig getting photos of hatching Chinese mantises Tenodera sinensis - photo copyright 2020 by Susan Rice
This has been edited ever so slightly, increasing the visibility of the egg case itself just so it’s more noticeable. That’s the macro softbox rig, and the reversed 28-105 that serves as my high-magnification lens. Now we’ll step back a little.

The author with his macro rig getting photos of hatching Chinese mantises Tenodera sinensis - photo copyright 2020 by Susan Rice
This shows the shooting position a bit better, right at the edge of the driveway and buried pretty deep in the rosemary – the 28-105 has to be pretty close for these kind of shots – while the second body with the Mamiya 80mm and extension tube attached sits nearby on my custom tripod (actually, my old Manfrotto that I cut the legs down on and attached my old ballhead, but it works fantastic.) By the way, I’d purchased a used Canon 7D a few months back and that’s been my primary workhorse now, and that’s it on the mini-tripod, but I brought out the old 30D for the still photos. Damn sensor badly needs a cleaning, though, so I had to touch out a lot of dust from those photos.

Another shot from today (well, yesterday now, since editing the video and writing this took longer than I wanted,) another hatching.

unidentified newborn spiders
On numerous strands of webbing stretched across the top of the gate, little specks revealed themselves to be newly-hatched spiders, though I can’t tell you what species. I’d lean towards barn spider myself, since they seem to be the most numerous in the area, but that’s only a guess. None of them wanted to give me a dorsal view of their markings, and I had almost nothing to brace against for stability and focusing – I tossed a lot of frames in the attempt. But hey, you can say there are a lot of birthdays to celebrate on March 28th… except none of these, or the mantids, will even be alive when it rolls around again next year.

At the tail end of the video I included a clip of tadpoles, and that references this post when the eggs were laid. They (some of them, anyway,) may well be around next year, so we can celebrate their birthday if we like.

One more thing: it’s time to start monitoring the eagle nest cam, since the eggs are due to hatch any time now.