Early to the party

Yesterday, The Girlfriend and I were checking out the progress of various plants in the yard when I glanced down at one of the rosemary bushes and stopped dead. This particular bush had a little extra alongside, one of the Chinese mantis (Tenodera sinensis) egg sacs/oothecas that I’d collected less than a month ago, affixed to a tall stick planted almost in contact with the bush. And that egg sac, against all expectations, was hatching out. In fact, I caught it in the latest stages, but soon enough to get a little action anyway.

newborn Chinese mantids Tenodera sinensis clustered on end of branch
Now, this is way early, close to a month before the earliest for any previous years witnessed, and roughly two months before some of the latest ones, so it’s safe to say that I wasn’t expecting this at all. There’s still some concern over getting another overnight frost in the next month or so, but they didn’t bother checking with me on the best season for emerging so they’re on their own.

I was a bit past ideal time to capture this, since it seems most had already hatched out and were scampering about on the branch that I’d attached the egg sac to, as well as on the rosemary itself, but a decent cluster of them were still dangling beneath the sac while they got their legs in operation and detached themselves from their suspending filaments.

newborn Chinese mantids Tenodera sinensis starting to become mobile
I was shooting by ambient light, having detached the flash because I was using the tripod for video work at the same time and the macro rig uses the same quick-change plate – maybe someday I’ll correct that, but it wasn’t today. So I was mostly shooting wide open and thus focus was a little short, but adequate to the task anyway (and I’ve got a ton of other photos from previous years’ sessions anyway.)

newborn Chinese mantis Tenodera sinensis on egg sac still showing faint swelling of forehead
As I’ve illustrated previously, they emerge with a bullet-shaped, swollen noggin with only dark spots delineating the eyes, but this swelling soon goes down while the eyes stand out – this one’s almost completely through its transition. Is this fluid that fills out the eyes? Got me – I doubt I could effectively dissect one to answer that question even if I was so inclined, and so far, no source that I’ve found has provided the solution either.

But as you know if you read the post right before this, I shot some video clips of this.

The day was pretty warm, but a seriously gusty wind was at work, not that they seemed to notice very much – the ones still dangling were getting quite a ride, but once on their feet they weren’t hampered visibly by the wind at all. Just in the short time that I was out there, most of the mantids were dispersing from the stick-and-sac out across the rosemary, which you can see here for scale (if you’re familiar with rosemary, anyway.)

newborn Chinese mantids Tenodera sinensis dispersing among rosemary
In fact, given the wind, I was a little surprised to find that only one seemed to have gotten entangled (besides the curious entrapment of the one in the video) – often it’s more, and a couple of years ago the number of newborns that did not survive the hatching process was much higher. We’ll get a little peek here.

rescued newborn Chinese mantis Tenodera sinensis with another entangled in background
Front and center is the one that I released from the egg sac, quite mobile now but still with its two hindmost legs tangled by a bit of filament – I felt pretty comfortable that it would disentangle itself within the day. Not so much the one in the background, visible all throughout the video; all legs were wrapped together with that one, likely from a gust of wind at the wrong time, and I wasn’t about to try releasing it. I’ve tackled it before, and the legs are so fragile while the filament is so tough that the risk of injury is very high – you’ve seen how big the scalpel blade is, and that’s the smallest thing I’ve got to manage the job. The filaments are but a few hundredths of a millimeter in thickness, so even seeing them takes serious magnification – I’m afraid that one was on its own.

Notably, by early yesterday evening, not one mantis could be seen with careful examination of the rosemary bush, and that was by both The Girlfriend and I. Where they’d all gotten to so quickly, I couldn’t say, but the temperature was already dropping so I’m surmising that they were sheltering down in the leaves and litter at the base. We’ll see what shows up in the next week.

Meanwhile, I’d started the day off with the idea that I’d photograph the pair of downy woodpeckers that may be making a nest nearby, but that got sidelined by this (and various household things.) So there may be still more pics coming soon. Ah, spring!

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