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.

On Virtual Communities and Writing

I have so enjoyed keeping this blog. What started as a collection of random thoughts has come to be an exploration “On Topic“— that is, I have adopted a tactic of topic elucidation. As you may have noticed, there’s really no rhyme or reason to what I write, when and why. I arbitrarily select topics that strike me in some way as important or unaddressed or societally ignored, and I comment. Petty and heavy alike, good thoughts are meant to be shared, I think.

I have been literarily negligent lately. My apologies to those of you who depend on the regularity of my posts, but even during this recent spring break, I perpetually have a surplus of started projects and a dearth of time(ly motivation). In all likelihood, I will probably resume regular writing during the summer, as the last weeks of school will require quite enough essaying.

However, I am excited by a new and potential use for Mantis&Me. As I outlined recently in my updated “About” section, I wish to propone the idea of virtual community writing. The Internet gives each of us an instant podium, and I would like to invite and challenge each of you to step up and speak.

I challenge you all to choose a topic about which you are inspired, and, through writing, change my perspective on it in some way. Write a thoughtspot, attacking or disproving or suggesting or commenting on any aspect of your chosen topic—  with the goal of merely suggesting an interpretation of convention.

I will regularly feature guest posters (already three people have sent me drafts), and if you’re interested in contributing to Mantis&Me, please email me at acantrell (at) wesleyan (dot) edu.

* * *  also, notice that mantisandme.com is currently inactive- I am in the process of redesigning the blog, so for the time being, find Mantis&Me at mantisandme.wordpress.com * * *

Now for some pictures of Darwin and Uroborus (crazy right?)

Welcoming [name]!

NEW MANTIS. It is always exciting to adopt a new mantis- mantids of different species have different personalities, so getting a new mantis is like meeting a new character your life, in a way. However, [name] is a male of the same specie as Darwin, who is a female Ghost Mantis (phyllocrania paradoxa).

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Some of you might be thinking, “hmm, you have a male, and a female, and they’re the same specie…” — don’t get ahead of yourselves. [Name] is not yet an adult mantis- he is still a nymph, and likely has several more molts to go before he is mature. However, once they’re both adult and have been well fed, I may strategically remove the wire barrier that keeps them separate.

Praying mantids are interestingly analogous to humans in form and function. First, praying mantids are the only specie of insect that can turn its head with distinction- most mantids can turn their heads a full 180˚. This initial similarity gives the mantis the impression of having some cognitive ability, as it will often follow your finger or appear to “decide” whether to climb on your finger, stare at you, or turn around.

Second, praying mantis species have personalities (though even using the word personality implies its intention as a human descriptor). I say mantis species because each individual mantis within each specie will generally respond to stimuli in rather identical patterns, and exhibit little or no relative “personality.” However, each praying mantis specie is adapted to live in a different natural environment, and each environment would cater to a different set of behavioral tendancies. For instance, a mantis in the rainforest may achieve the best success by blending in, or mimiking a flower or leaf, because other insects are bountiful and relatively common. However, a mantis suited for a more temperate or deciduous environment where food is widely dispersed might be more aggressive and apt to actively hunt. These behavioral tendencies would certainly be interpreted by us ever-interpretive humans as “personality,” although a more appropriate word might be temperament or average disposition.

I am excited to meet this new mantis and compare his behavior with that of Darwin. Will “gender” exist? Are there distinctly male and female behavioral tendencies and patterns?

Right- also, he needs a name. Ideas, anyone?

Final Molt!

Darwin experienced a spectacular final molt today around 3pm. She hadn’t eaten for a few days, climbed to a suitable position, and sat; I was thus expecting a molt and kept the humidity and temperature relatively high- and voila, the dragon queen emerged from her bodily cocoon to reveal two sets of fragile, dewey wings. I’ll let pictures do the rest of the talking.

This is how I found her earlier today:

Welcome to adulthood!