Tuesday, May 12, 2009

You think this cup-o-noodles is still good?

"I brought home a bucket of praying mantises from work - they hatched," Chris tells me over dinner last night. "Once they hatch, they start eating each other, so right now it's like insect thunderdome in the car console."

In my mind, I pictured hundreds of full-grown praying mantises biting each other's heads off, blood-spurting from headless bodies with twitching ciliated appendages, and a few flag-bearing survivors scaling mounds of buggy corpses.

About a month ago, we let loose a fleet of ladybugs in the gardens and trees. The mantises are our second wave of natural pest deterrence.

We forgot to release them last night, so this morning, I feared that our car interior would resemble a biblical plague. As Chris left for work he explained that as soon as I opened the lid, the mantids would cover my hand, but that they wouldn't bite, and I just needed to gently shake and guide them to freedom throughout the garden.

After breakfast and coffee, the girls and I headed out to see our squirmy surprise. We found the newly hatched mantis nymphs in a half-pint cardboard container. Not nearly as 'B'-movie as I'd imagined, each was about a quarter-inch long, nearly translucent brown, with tiny supplicant forelimbs. And contrary to Chris's warning, they huddled in the tiny bit of wood shavings and nectar with which they'd been packed.

The girls and I walked throughout the vegetable garden, coaxing the baby mantises onto pepper, squash, bean and berry plants with our fingers. A lid-full landed on our black-eyed susans.

We've avoided dousing our earth with chemical irritants, but it doesn't escape me that we've nevertheless completely upended the ecological balance of our property.

Someone call an intervention if I start communicating by rubbing my forearms together.