My boys and I have watched several different types of insects move through their life cycles. In past years, we’ve watched ants make amazing tunnels. We’ve observed as tiny caterpillars grew large, secreted a chrysalis, and emerged as butterflies. We’ve seen ladybugs transform from larvae, to pupa, and then into the adult ladybugs we all recognize.
This week, we watched over a hundred praying mantis nymphs emerge from a single egg. It was truly amazing to watch. For weeks we had a hardened egg case sitting on a twig inside a glass jar. We checked it several times a day, to see if anything was happening, but day after day all looked the same.
Then one afternoon, my 7-year-old peeked in and excitedly called all of us into the kitchen (Yes, in our small house we hatch insects in the kitchen because, well, that’s where we have a counter to put the jar. It’s also warmest in the kitchen.). While the information that we read about praying mantises said that up to 200 nymphs can emerge from one egg, I was still in awe at the huge number of creatures that were now covering every surface in our jar.
Praying mantises are fantastic insectivores. They will rid your garden of moths, mosquitos, flies, grasshoppers, and other insects that you might consider garden pests. Last year, we had a large beetle infestation in one of our gardens, so we are hoping that the praying mantises can provide an organic means of preventing it from happening again.
One of the things our research told us was that praying mantis nymphs will begin to eat each other if they are not released or given food rather quickly. So as soon as we noticed they had hatched, we took them outside to release them into our garden.
We decided to keep a few praying mantises in our butterfly net for continued observation. As we watch them, we’ve been feeding them fruit flies, as well as any other small, live insects my boys catch.
Watching and learning about these different insects has helped my boys to understand and appreciate some of the wondrous way in which all life is interconnected. As we learn about each insect’s role and habits, its predators and diet (be it plants or other bugs), we’ve all gained a better understanding about how everything within our eco-system is important.
I hear my boys telling their friends that ladybugs eat aphids, praying mantises are insectivores that help gardens, ants are decomposers, and that butterflies are important pollinators, and it makes me smile. We all play a role in this world, and learning more about the natural biosphere helps us to see the fantastic – often overlooked – life that blossoms all around us.
There is beauty and wonder wherever we seek it in this world, even in the lives of the smallest of insects.
Have you watched insects as they hatch? Where have you found unexpected beauty in the natural world?