More mouths to feed

Luckily, I’m not the one to do it.

newly hatched Chinese mantids Tenodera sinensis swarming near egg sac ootheca
I was busy with other tasks this morning and neglected to do my morning check of the mantis egg sacs, but judging from how many were swarming around when I finally did notice this one, they’d probably gotten started in the very early morning hours. Only a couple were still displaying a slight forehead bump that’s the last vestige of the bullet-head they have for hatching, while most were scampering around freely with little display of stiffness or clumsiness that indicates recent emergence. Ah well.

cluster of newborn Chinese mantids Tenodera sinensis on branch where ootheca was attached
No masks, no distancing – must be Fox News viewers. Here you can see the string that I used to attach the collected ootheca/sac to a larger, stronger branch for placement around the yard, while the background leaves are the day lilies that aren’t yet in bloom. Actually, most things aren’t – it’s been a slow spring, but we’re getting there.

They were just as spooky as the last batch, starting to disperse as I leaned in for closer photos, but I managed to snag a couple of decent frames anyway – and a lot of indecent ones. Well, no, not in the way that sounds – let’s just say crappy frames; English is weird. Here are a couple up at the tip of the branch having that tense movie moment before the big showdown in the third act.

pair of newborn Chinese mantids Tenodera sinensis meeting face to face
I lie; they weren’t in any movie, even my own. And they weren’t tense or even facing off, but just happened to get in each other’s way as they explored their environs. There was a lot of that going on, really, but luck allowed me to be in close enough with decent focus to catch one.

I went in even closer, but was working without the focus assist light, because I’m lazy/stupid, so using the reversed 28-105 for high magnification meant a little guessing in the dark because of the aperture fixed at f16. This was as sharp as I got – I know I can get sharper, but it also requires subjects that don’t leap away as the lens looms close.

newborn Chinese mantis Tenodera sinensis in very close portrait
The facets of the eyes are almost discernible here, though they might also not be too distinct yet because the eyes have only been ‘inflated’ to proper shape within the past couple of hours. And sorry, but I had to go for the long vertical framing on this one, to show the little ‘thorns’ on the forelegs too.

But this very shot prompted me to go out again and pursue another, specifically for you readers (and, well, anyone that might want to pay me for such things – don’t let your ego get too carried away.) It’s one thing to have detail, but another to know just how small those details are, so I went out with the paper millimeter scale in hand to try and illustrate this. All I had to do was place it somewhere near the gathered mantids and wait for one to amble across it.

Well, no. First off, most of the lily leaves they were now occupying were vertical, so the scale wouldn’t stay put (and would drop down into the dense middle of the emerging leaves when it slipped.) Second, the mantids didn’t like my hand, or even the tweezers, coming into their territory like that, and mostly dropped away into the denser undergrowth as I did so. Placing it at an acceptable distance and then trying to coax one closer, given that they now opted to freeze in place with my own activity visible, resulted in mostly the mantids heading in some other direction, but on the rare occasions when I got one close to the scale, they quickly dodged off of it, seemingly aware that it was foreign and wanting nothing to do with it (again, Fox New viewers.) On two occasions, I actually coaxed one onto the open tweezers, but then trying to introduce them onto the scale failed. Eventually, I managed a faint success; not what I was after, but perhaps just sufficient enough.

newborn Chinese mantid Tenodera sinensis near millimeter scale
As shown, they’re roughly 10mm in overall length when hatched, so the entire width of the head falls around 2mm, so you can scroll back up and judge for yourself how small the details that I did capture were.

This one was almost cooperative.

newborn Chinese mantis Tendora sinensis running behind millimeter scale
Seeing it perched on the edge of a large planter nearby, I placed the scale well ahead of it and then attempted to shoo the mantis in that direction, figuring that it would stick to the upper edge without too much difficulty. Ehhhhh, kinda. It tried going in other directions, and climbed a nearby leaf before I coaxed it back down to the rim again, and finally headed in the direction of the scale. Getting the camera in hand, I leaned into focus, and the mantis dodged down the side of the planter and soon disappeared. I spent far more time in trying to get a scale shot than with all the other photos combined, with far less success.

While this was going on, I glanced down into a planter behind me and noticed a much-larger fly sitting complacently on the side, and fired off a few frames of that one. This was much easier.

unidentified insect possibly syrphid fly showing eye facets and body 'hair.'
I don’t know what this is and am not doing the legwork on it right now; I’m leaning towards it being a syrphid fly of some kind. Not quite twice the body length of the mantids and a hell of a lot more cooperative, it shows the detail that can arise if your subject holds still. And proof that I don’t suck too bad.