Saturday, September 17, 2011

Mantis Wrangling

Yesterday morning was one of the coldest we’d had in months. When I woke up, it was only 41 degrees F.  Brr!  A cold front had swept through Thursday night, its dramatic thunderstorms leaving us much colder air than normal: our usual lows this time of year are more like 50 or 60 degrees.

So I decided to delay my planned hike for a few hours.  I’d hoped to spot some late-season butterflies, perhaps even some migrating monarchs, but there was no way I'd find much with such chilly temperatures.  The cold front might even have dropped in some really neat migrant birds, but I just wasn’t feeling the birding vibe. I know, I’m a slacker birder.

I finally got to the pond around 11:20 to find it crawling with children, maybe 7 or 8 years old. Their shrieks of discovery and delight filled the air even as far away as the parking lot, as did the frantic and increasingly flustered scoldings from the chaperones.  I nearly turned tail, but decided I would be strong and carry on. It’s not like I was looking for birds anyway, right? Bugs would be much more tolerant of the noise, or so I hoped.

Hunting for insects.

Near the pond, one of the chaperones crouched protectively over a spot near the path.  Shouts like “I found a rattlesnake!”, “I caught a praying mantis,” and “A butterfly landed on my sleeve!” were frequent. So I too wanted to see what the adult was guarding.  I hoped perhaps a snake made sluggish by the cold. Dozens of hyperactive children zoomed back and forth along the pond’s edge as I approached.

It turned out to be a lovely chocolate-brown praying mantis. One of the adults had discovered the mantis next to the path, right in the way of stampeding feet, and wanted to keep it safe.  The man told me he intended to move her to some nearby brush, but he seemed reluctant to touch her.  Just then, the teacher started chivvying the class to the next station down the trail.  So of course I offered to help with the mantis.

First I tried to gently scoop her up in my cupped hands.  Boy, was that a failure. Every time I got her in one hand she’d scuttle right off.  I even tried walking my alternating hands in front of her, but she was too fast for me even in the cold temperatures.  After half a dozen failed tries I declared she could get to the brush under her own power if she was going to be so ornery.  The class was gone now and the chaperone made his way after them as well.  I started herding the mantis across several feet of lawn.

I still needed to somehow pick her up to place her deep enough in the brush for safety.  I was sure more children were headed my way, since the first group left their equipment behind.

Basket of bug-catchers.

Since my scooping technique had already failed, and I didn’t want to cause her any more damage (her right eye looked injured, although she didn’t seem to have any trouble seeing my hand approach from the right side, or evading said hand), I needed a new strategy.  Finally it occurred to me maybe I could just coax her onto my sleeve and carry her that way.  Indeed that worked, perhaps all too well: once I got her onto my sleeve she did not want to get off. I chased her up and down my arm for a few minutes.

I'm comfy here, thank you very much.

Finally I managed to push her into the brush. She perched upside down there for several minutes, allowing me to admire her colorful abdomen.

Does this leaf make my butt look big?

Eventually I wandered off to explore the pond and the nearby meadow as I’d planned.  There really were very few butterflies or any insects at all in attendance, even far from the disturbance of children; I didn’t even see a single dragonfly until three in the afternoon when it finally warmed up enough for them.  Mostly the bees had exclusive control of the thistles and other flowers, but I did I find a few dozy butterflies, many of whom were a bit tattered this late in the season. I even surprised a deer who had ventured down to the pond for a snack after the children left. 

Bumble bee slurping up the thistle nectar.

Rather tattered Great Spangled Fritillary.

A surprisingly cherry Gray Hairstreak.

One of my target species for the day: a Buckeye.

The surprise sighting of the day: this hungry doe.

So I’m glad I braved the horde of children that had taken over the normally quiet pond.  I’ll check back there in a few days when the weather warms up again. Maybe by then more butterflies will be back out. 

Today's location: Meadowside Nature Center, Rock Creek Regional Park, Rockville, MD

1 comment:

  1. Kudos to you for helping the Mantis out of harms way!


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