The secret yet eludes me

Still working through the backlog of photos, but part of the reason for stalling on these was that I was trying to produce the next chapter in the story, even going so far as to make another examination tonight before I started working on this post, to no avail.

Carolina mantis Stagmomantis carolina pointing to location of dramatic event
You see, I’m trying to document the entire life cycle of a praying mantis, birth to death and everything in between, but a few parts tend to be difficult to capture. Birth, molting, even the occasional capture of prey – got all that. But with the exception of two or three inadequate frames from years ago, the courtship, mating, and egg-laying have all escaped my attention. In some cases, it appears that I’ve missed it happening very conveniently close by, like the egg case that was on the big Japanese maple right outside the front door, that I not only missed all winter long (even as I placed a case obtained elsewhere in prime position on the other side of the same tree,) I didn’t find it until well after hatching season.

egg case ootheca of Chinese mantis Tenodera sinensis
This tree, while dense, is as tall as my armpits and a little over two meters across, and frequently garners my attention – there’s no excuse for this.

It’s not like I’m not trying. I frequently do a round or two of the yard, checking out all of the favorite locations and all of the newly-discovered ones, trying to keep tabs on the various mantids to be found. Once they reach adulthood, they have wings and can pretty much go wherever they want, though I’m endeavoring to make this location ideal for them, by having lots of plants to attract their prey insects, and making sure they get plenty of water when I find them during hot spells – and they definitely seem to appreciate this bit.

juvenile Carolna mantis Stagmomantis carolina after misting
This used to be accomplished by a misting bottle, until I picked up a garden sprayer and could cover a lot more territory. During the hot dry season (which pretty much means Carolina summer,) I frequently stir them out of hiding places when I hose the mist around, as they come up to the upper reaches of leaves to collect as much moisture as possible before it evaporates.

Chinese mantis Tenodera sinensis pausing after misting
But gradually, the numbers dwindle until it seems I see none for days or even weeks. And yes, it’s possible that they leave because of all the attention, big looming softboxes and cameras getting shoved in their faces, but this doesn’t occur very often at all; it might seem like a lot, if you follow my posts, but it’s spread over many individuals, and I can observe the mantids as well as anyone else – they know how to make themselves scarce if they feel threatened. Most times they haven’t even left position when I finish my photo sessions and move on. I mean, anxious mantids don’t tend to stop and clean their feet.

adult Chinese mantis Tenodera sinensis cleaning its feet
This is one of the new, breeding adults, by the way, as indicated by the complete wings with that bright green band. This was a sudden reappearance on the tomato plants next to the Japanese maple that may have been its own hatching grounds, and I watched it for a few days, off and on, before it disappeared again. But while we’re here, we need a closer look at those details – why waste them if they were captured?

detail shot of previous frame
The dark eyes here denote that it was taken at night, when they’re typically more active, but this is very likely the same individual as a couple of pics above, the wet adult with the green-brown eyes – that’s just the day mode. The photos were only two days apart, back at the beginning of September, but I haven’t seen this one since.

Still, I keep trying, even doing an outing to the same spot in the late winter where literally dozens of egg cases had been found, hoping for the chance to spot one being laid/placed/produced/whatever by one of the thousands of mantises that should have been born that spring. The result? Not only no sign of such behavior, we saw one, count ’em, one mantis the entire four hours (and that one wasn’t even the same species as all the egg cases, but will be along shortly anyway.)

adult Chinese mantis Tenodera sinensis posing pleasantly
We’re closing on the end of the season now, so there’s not a lot of time remaining to catch this, at least for this year – I’ve been trying for over a decade, so it’s just one of those many background goals that I’ll take advantage of when the time is right. And if I ever figure out a magic formula to make them stick around and provide more chances for this, I’ll let you know.

While the last few photos have all been the larger Chinese mantises (Tenodera sinensis,) the same ones caught during hatching, I’ll close with a smaller, adult Carolina mantis (Stagmomantis carolina,) that appeared on The Girlfriend’s trumpet flower for a little while and provided several enigmatic poses during a short photo session; another is the opening image at top. Just not the action poses that I’m trying to add.

Carolina mantis Stagmomantis carolina posed on trumpet flower Brugmansia leaves

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