The Hatching

5 years ago

Imagine, if you will, you're my across-the-street neighbor, standing on your front porch as your three kids play and suddenly there's a scream from my house so loud, so sustained you hear it like a train whistle despite closed doors and windows. 

"Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah!"

Over and over and over. 

You'd wonder what became of me and the kids, right? I'm certain you'd never guess. 

Lately, the day to day with the children has bordered on unbearable. Tobias hit an intense phase marked by repeated tantrums and a dour outlook, classic 3 and a half, as one friend described it. Josephine upped her stubborn quotient and challenges every rule, disputes most requests and harumphs her displeasure.

Then Esme came down with strep. 

So, we were out for fresh air yesterday to clear our heads, stretch our legs and run some of the bad mood off but the bad moods and misbehavior chased us home. I was so ticked off when we finally burst through the front door that I made the kids a glass of water each and walked straight to the basement to fold clothes (but mostly to get away from them). 

I wasn't there long when Esme shouted from the top of the steps: "The praying mantis! The praying mantis."

Three weeks ago, when I bought the package of ladybugs to release in the yard, I also bought a praying mantis egg case filled with what the online retailer told me was 200-300 praying mantis eggs. We put it in a borrowed terrarium and placed it on the dining room table - voila, an insect centerpiece - then, we waited. 

Different web sites told me the eggs needed a few continuous weeks of warm weather to hatch, but we didn't know what to expect. I moved the terrarium back and forth between the table and buffet at mealtime so many times that I rather forgot to wonder about when the eggs might hatch.

Until they did. 

I ran upstairs to see why Esme was shouting, and then promptly started shouting myself. Like a ninny, it must be said. The praying mantis nymphs were oozing from the egg case in such a ghastly mass of translucent foam that I couldn't control myself. It was like watching transparent meat with black eyeballs spill from a meat grinder. 

It was fascinating, sure, but for several minutes I couldn't get past how gruesome it looked. And I couldn't stop screaming (while simultaneously scolding myself internally). It was like the time a mouse ran through our front room and I stood on the chair and hyperventilated. Total nonsense, yet totally incapable of slapping myself into silence. 

Of course, I did eventually gain my composure and I took the terrarium to the front porch with the kids following closely and put it on the picnic table for us all to marvel. 

The nymphs quickly unfurled themselves, found their footing and flitted about the terrarium as more oozed from the case and joined them. My across-the-street neighbor and her children joined us too. (She likened my screaming to a woman who drinks daintily from a tea cup. Indeed.) 

Within 30 minutes, the egg case was empty and the nymphs ready to start their life cycle. I was warned by many, many friends to watch out, praying mantis are ruthless predators and will set upon one another quickly. So, we took the terrarium to the back yard and let some of them crawl into the garden. 

The plan was always to cull the mantids down to a handful of hardy ones so that we can eventually select one strong mantid to grow to adulthood. The others would be released to the garden where they can fend for themselves and hopefully feast on bad pests that we could otherwise do without. 

But the nymphs seemed content to hang out in the terrarium, so I brought it in for the night with upwards of 50 still in there. I turned out the light at midnight and wondered what I'd find in the morning. 

Well, I found them all mostly as they'd been the night before, only noticeably bigger and darker. As the morning wore on, they seemed to grow more feisty too (but, as of dusk, they still haven't started to devour each other). I had 100 things to do this morning but after I finished the most pressing, I sat with my nose to the terrarium and watched, spellbound. 

A sampling of my morning tweets: 

I can already tell this is going to be a project that consumes me. So, prepare for praying mantis stories galore. I promise I won't scream. 

Dana blogs at Feast After Famine.

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