Saturday, January 26, 2013

What Are Those Brown Sugar Blobs on My Shrubs?


When you live in the frozen tundra that Ohio sometimes becomes and you feel as though winter will never end, you find things to do to help it pass more quickly. I like to go walkabout through the garden and around the property to see what there is to see at a time when most people would prefer to stay warm inside.

A yearly winter activity for me is to go around observing and counting the praying mantis egg cases. Seen in abundance in our gardens throughout summer, praying mantises are more than welcome here.

I've seen them in all sizes, from teeny weeny baby ones just emerging from an egg case...

May 26, 2007



...to a little bit larger, wandering about or lying in wait for prey...



...and even larger, when they get too big for their skin...

A praying mantis will molt six to ten times throughout its life.



...to full-sized, when they just love to stare me down.




I found 19 vital egg cases today, every one of them on the hedge of Van Houtte spiraea (Spiraea x vanhouttei), clearly their preferred location, where several blackened cases still remain from previous years. The current year's egg cases remind me of spun brown sugar, even glistening in the sun as if that's just what they were made of.

The tan cases are about the size of a walnut.

In late summer, when the female mantis has mated, she finds a branch well above the ground, where she releases a whipped cream-like foam from the ovipositor at the end of her abdomen.  Before it hardens, she deposits anywhere from 50 to 300 eggs in the foam.  After it hardens, the egg case (called an ootheca) will protect the eggs and developing mantids from predators like ants and spiders, as well as snow and wind. In late spring, when it warms sufficiently, all the mantids will emerge from the egg case at once.

Have you been able to find any egg cases on branches in your yard?



8 comments:

Jason said...

That's very exciting to have so many mantises! I have yet to see a single one in our garden.

Shelley said...

We have them all over here. If I find one on a branch I am trimming in the spring, I cut the branch and put it somewhere else because I can never tell for sure if it is empty. I have seen a mantis less than an inch when working in the landscape. Great article.

Karen said...

I saw a tiny one last year but I've never noticed the egg cases. I'll keep my eyes out for them now. Years ago I had a stare-down with a large one on my deck through the screen. It was amazing to watch him watching me - he'd turn his head every time I moved! Karen from http://www.quarteracredandelionfarm.blogspot.com

Kylee Baumle said...

Jason ~ Keep your eyes open! They're very good at hiding. They lay in wait for predators, so they aren't very active and their green color affords them great camouflage. I hope you get to see some this summer!

Shelley ~ Good for you! (And thanks!) Many people are afraid of them, so I'm glad you take good care of them. :-)

Karen ~ Yes, go have a look, to see if you can find some egg cases. The one that I witnessed during emergence was about eye level in a weeping willow tree, but they really do prefer the shrubs here. I love to watch them track my movements, like you said. Charming things!

Jodi DeLong said...

I can't help it...these bugs give me the complete heeby-geebys, ever since I read a terrifying science fiction story from the 1930s about a race of praying-mantis-like aliens that ate anything that wasn't plants or them. I know they're beneficial, but still...eek. :-)

Kylee Baumle said...

Jodi ~ Awwww...I know you aren't alone in feeling that way, but you surprise me! I really love them. :-)

Cindy Garber Iverson said...

I've always wondered what those things were! I've been finding them in the garden but never with baby mantis on them so I assumed they were some sort of spent cocoon. How cool to find out that they're really praying mantis egg cases! The praying mantis is one of my favorite insects. I can't wait to tell Hubby.

Beth said...

Your photos are spectacular, Kylee! We very rarely see praying mantis here; we've thought about buying some to add to the garden. They really are quite an interesting insect!

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