When Michelle offered to mail me a praying mantis egg sac, I was certain something would go wrong. Maybe the egg sac would never arrive. Maybe it would arrive busted open. Maybe it would never hatch.
The egg sac arrived just days before I left for my last business trip. Before Michelle even mailed them to me, I’d asked her whether the freaking bugs were going to hatch while I was gone. I mean, I didn’t even have them yet, and I was already frustrated. This is how it goes in the Inadvertent Garden. Frustration without representation.
“I would say keep an eye on them, and if there is no hatching before you leave, move them outdoors (which is the other way I’ve read to hatch them) and let nature take its course,” Michelle replied. “That means no getting to see the hatching, but you could then hunt for them when you get home.”
It was going to have to do. I dutifully placed the sac (hot-glued to a stick) in the jar Michelle sent along with it, poked holes (just large enough for them to breathe, but not so they could escape) in a piece of plastic wrap, and waited.
The night before I left, I reluctantly removed the plastic wrap. Hunt for them, I would.
When I returned, I had some emergency plant work to attend to. My designated waterer had bailed on the job three days before I got home, and that meant I had a lot of nursing to do to get some of my plants to the recovery stage. While it hadn’t been super-hot, it had been bone-dry in Eastern Iowa, and that dying basil? It looked so bad, I thought it had a fungus. Really, what it had was a case of thirst. Same with the sage, same with the hanging tomato, same with any number of other plants who were not long for this world if I hadn’t gotten home when I did.
I also had some tomato plants with breaking stems to deal with. That, folks, is an emergency. So I dealt with that, went inside for awhile, and suddenly remembered my jar of mantises.
I peered out to the porch, where I’d left them. A fuzzy clump of something was hanging out the bottom of the sac.
They must be gone, I thought. Now it’s time for the hunt.
Only then I looked closer. And that’s when I realized…they had hatched, but they hadn’t been able to escape. They were trapped in the clear plastic jar, live ones climbing over dead ones, and the fuzzy clump seemed to be ones that hadn’t really made it through the delivery process. Who knows how long they’d been in there struggling to figure out a way up the wall of the jar.
I took immediate action. I took the mantises to the garden plot and began setting them free. A clump of dead ones went into the top of a plant, and I lay the stick and sac in the dirt with the dead babies still attached to it.
Then I sat there watching nature take action. The still-live mantises took off, running and scattering like they had hot dates. Over the dirt clumps and through the beans, in minutes, there were none to be found.
Next came the ants. I didn’t put out a call, didn’t hook up my P.A. system or anything (and I do have one, I just didn’t think ants cared about sound equipment), but it was as if I’d shot off a flare. It took about 47 seconds for the first one to come nosing around the pile of dead mantises on the ground, and then, within about three to six more seconds, that ant had taken off with a body.
I went into the house after five minutes, and when I returned 15 minutes later, the egg sac was cleaned of all mantis bodies. The next morning, any bodies remaining in the plant were gone, too. Somewhere, ants feasted.
Shortly after that, we got three days of heavy thunderstorms, including some strong enough to spark a funnel cloud or two. I’ve been watching, but have yet to see any of the mantises in the garden. But I’m hopeful. I’m very, very hopeful. They have to be around somewhere, after all.