NEW LIFE

And thus has passed the era of Darwin, the Ghost Mantis (queen). Five days after dear Borus was consumed, Darwin mysteriously took ill and passed away in the night. I neglected to announce this tragic passing for grief’s sake— but really, Darwin lived a full and pregnant 10 months and was a loyal companion during some of the most glorious and destitute times in my life. RIP, comrade!

But linger not, dally less: new life has sprung up in my Mantis kingdom: two GIANT AFRICAN TWIG (Heterochaeta orientalis) mantids and four CHINESE MANTIDS (Tenodera sinensis). Also, for the first time ever, my two younger brothers will be adopting a chinese mantis each.

VERY EXCITING.

They are youthful and lively as nymphs usually are, and are eagerly (rapidly) consuming fruit flies (drosophila hydei). As both of these species are quite large (usually between 4 and 6 inches) (as opposed to Darwin, who was about 2.5 inches as an adult), their growth (and appetites) should remain quite vigorous. The African Twigs are both rather easily perturbed, and pose their scare display (like ‘VERY EXCITED’ mantis above in photo) whenever a human walks by. Sometimes I narrate them… “FEAR ME…. I AM A GIANT TWIG.” (to the tune of Beethoven’s 5th)

However, in a fitting burst of idiocy, I ordered the mantids right before we (my family) are jetting off to Amsterdam for a week. Family vacation, regrouping, art-touring, coffee-shop-living, etc. So a quick shout out to friend, mantis-caretaker, and programmer, Hunter. THANKS BUD.

Welcome to the new crew!

Uroborus

So I wake up this morning to a crime scene in my bedroom. My eyelids flutter open, I swivel my head, yawn a few times, and I’m greeted by an unholy spectacle— limbs strewn across the floor, legs torn from a body and stacked almost-neatly in a psychopathic pile, the remains of a half-eaten raptorial limb flung against the wall, wings ripped ferociously from an insect body…

Darwin ate Borus. In one of nature’s most unsettling and famous displays of savagery, Darwin the female Ghost mantis killed and consumed most of Uroborus the male Ghost mantis.

Hanging guiltily from a twig directly above the carcass, Darwin gave me a shit-eating grin. “Darwin, you ate your husband! You bad, bad mantis!” In my customary anthropomorphic style, I spent the next half-hour cleaning and admonishing her. “You know, if you were a human, you’d be locked up! People would hear about you in the news: Pregnant suburban housewife kills and consumes husband during coitus.” Hide your kids, hide your (husband). What is the world coming to.

To be frank, I don’t even know if Darwin and Borus mated. For all I know, Borus tried to make a move, and instead of politely rejecting him, Darwin decided she was hungry. I hope he was tenacious in his approach, because otherwise it does appear that he died in vain, without achieving fertilization (for which purpose he was bought!) However, Borus was a beautiful specimen, a excellent companion, and, in the end, a most satisfying snack.

Here is a photographic tribute to Borus, from birth to untimely death.

Eggs! Eggs! Unfortunately, Eggs.

Sometime during last night, Darwin laid her first oothecae, which is Praying Mantis for “egg sack.” It’s about three and a half inches long, pastel green, and a few millimeters thick. Although you can’t see each individual egg, there are ripples on the surface of the ootheca that indicate where some of the ~three dozen eggs are located.

So this is an interesting occurrence. Darwin is unfertilized; as in, she has not mated with a male of the same specie. Yet, she clearly just laid eggs, and is likely poised to do so again. Since Darwin never mated, common knowledge might find this event slightly preposterous. After all, a zebra or a pigeon or a human female certainly cannot reproduce without a mate.

It appears that Darwin has conducted parthenogenesis, which derives its roots from the greek parthenos, meaning ”virgin”, and genesis-birth,” is a form of self-fertilization. Without any genetic input from a mate, Darwin has laid eggs that will eventually hatch as almost exact identical copies of herself. However, these offspring will be sterile, and will be exclusively female. In nature, parthenogenesis is a remarkable technique for quickly colonizing an area, bypassing the complications of sexual reproduction. Mantids in the wild can thus survive in areas of low population density where other animal species might not.

However, there is the issue of having absolutely no genetic variation among a population. If some exogenous factor emerges within a habitat— a disease, or a decrease in temperature, or a volcanic eruption or other natural disaster— since there is no variation at all within the population, the entire colony is more likely to collapse than evolve.

I wanted Uroborus to reach adulthood before Darwin conducted parthenogenesis. Borus is a male Ghost mantis with a brown coloration and an expectedly different genetic makeup. However, Borus only recently had his 6th molt, which leaves him one short of adulthood (wing buds have formed, so within a month, he will molt into adulthood).  Hopefully, Darwin will still be receptive to Borus, though I’m not sure if sexual reproduction is possible at this point after parthenogenesis has taken place.

All this being said, Darwin is a captive mantis, as will be her progeny, and is unlikely to be exposed to a  selecting force such as widespread disease, drought or predation. So it’s really not a big deal, and I look forward to more pastel green oothecae appearing over the next few months.

Here’s a few pictures of the egg sack and of Borus molting.