Thursday, October 08, 2020

Bug Stuff (And There's Supposed To Be A Movie But Blogger Is Ruining My Life)

When I was a kid about a hundred years ago, I feel like there were more creepy crawlies around in Nature. I can remember catching dozens of lightning bugs (you might call them fireflies) and putting them in a jar with some grass and a twig or two. Now, I rarely see them, and yes, I do look for them. It wasn't odd at all to see the occasional turtle wandering in the yard or even on the sidewalk. And toads were everywhere. Once, when we were at my grandparents' cabin, hundreds of the tiniest frogs I had ever seen came out one night and clung to a tree. Some covered the ground below it. I was instantly in love and wanted to take dozens and dozens home with me. They were no bigger than a dime. By morning they were all gone, and I never saw anything like it again.

I remember a lot more butterflies, too, and moths. Big summertime moths that beat against the screens and porch lights. Grasshoppers were around as well, and when I held them, they'd "spit tobacco" in my hands. We'd play with big grey potato bugs (you might call them pill bugs) and get them to roll into tight balls, tucking their legs until all of them disappeared. I can't remember the last time I saw one. 

Every so often--very, very rarely--a praying mantis would appear. They were almost mythical creatures, and I had heard from someone (my brother, probably) that it was against the law to kill one. I would be almost terrified to see one, afraid that I'd somehow cause its death and get into terrible trouble.  Add to that their odd appearance and weird movements, and I'd just as soon not see them, period.

Obviously, once I got older, I wasn't so naive about the praying mantis; instead, I was fascinated by it, especially its famous mating ritual wherein the female bites the head off of and then consumes the male. I couldn't imagine how that frail-looking head and tiny mouth could accomplish such a feat. Plus, how cool is that, really?  And besides The Internet and documentaries like Planet Earth, when would I ever get a chance to see that up close?

Well, it turns out that This Week is the answer to that question. For quite some time now, a pair of praying mantises (mantii?) has been living on and around my back deck. They climb the back of my house, walk across my deck, and meander among the bushes and grasses nearby. Yesterday, I was about to walk into the back door and noticed them hanging onto the bench like so:


Apparently the male had already lost his head. Since I wasn't really interrupting anything sensitive, I shot a short video:


(That would be Marlowe, my female crabby cat, protesting in the background. So needy. IF YOU COULD SEE IT AND HEAR IT. I'll keep troubleshooting it.)

There is no sign of the now-single praying mantis today. I looked for her this morning when I left to go vote and again when I came home. I searched when I went out for my walk and when I returned. An obnoxiously loud fly slammed into the kitchen window above me, and I saw a particularly ugly fat grey spider, but not the praying mantis.  Perhaps, her mission accomplished, she has moved on.

Fingers crossed that the multitudes of wee tree frogs are next on the horizon.


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33 comments:

  1. There are so many memories in this post for me Nance! When I was young (also like you about 100 years ago), we used to follow the mail man (who walked and delivered mail to boxes on the outside of houses). He would pick up grasshoppers (always so many of them) and talk about them. We saw plenty of fireflies. Turtles occasionally. Summers in VT, I would collect frogs and/or toads and keep them in my bedroom (!! - YIKES!!) which was really a sleeping porch. Oh my! We have had this year many more praying mantises (mantii??) than in prior years...or we are just noticing them more. But I have never witnessed a mating act or a headless one. YIKES (again).

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    1. Vera--I've seen more mantises this year, too. We've seen them at the lakehouse as well, so I know I'm not just seeing the same ones over and over again. I haven't seen a toad even once on my property and that's been 35 years at home. Everyone said when we put in our little pond, the frogs would find us, but that has not been the case, either.

      I love your memories from your childhood in Vermont. I bet it was really lovely there. And how wonderful to imagine a gaggle of kids following the mailman, listening to Nature tales. Idyllic!

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  2. We caught lightening bugs as kids, too. Lots of them. I also remember more lady bugs around back them. I loved them, I did. As for praying mantises not a fan. Creepy looking and clearly macabre-- as are spiders, but I do enjoy watching stink bugs move slowing along. Perhaps we all have our own favorite bugs?

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    1. Ally Bean--You call them lightning bugs, too; that's what they'll always be to me. Fireflies are for poetry. It's hard to believe that there are lots of places that simply don't have them, no matter what they're called. That's sad.

      I recall the pretty red and black ladybugs also being more plentiful. Maybe they finally did "fly away home" like the nursery rhyme says.

      Now, those brown stink bugs--what a nuisance they are! Their shape is unique, but they are invasive and annoying. My cats are entertained by them, though. I think you're right when you say that we each have our favourites.

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  3. Tried to comment- it disappeared! Let me try again..
    Same thing happens here- there are less critters now than when I was growing up. My guess is all of the lawn services that people use and the chemicals that they spray have taken away some of them. I do get frogs in my pond still, and I see an occasional box turtle.
    I was going around saying mantii (I have a background in medical terminology, so it sounded right to me) and finally looked it up. The common consensus is mantises.

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    1. Minerva--Steph had a disappearing comment on my last post. Not sure how it's happening. I think sometimes when the sidebar items load after you hit "publish", there's a delay, and if you move on without waiting, it may cause that problem. I don't know. Blogger is getting to be a bitch lately, to be plain.

      I think chemicals from lawn services and from people using things like RoundUp and other artificial substances are having a chilling effect on Nature. That, and the hybridization of vegetables and grains, perhaps, which make them resistant to insects and natural bacteria/fungus, etc. We're also landscaping so many green spaces to make them People Friendly. Nice for us; not so nice for the original residents.

      I love the capriciousness of The Language. Feel free to use mantii--even to pronounce it man-tee-eye if you want to. It might impress the hell out of someone.

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  4. I'm not sure about potato bugs (are they the same as wood louse?...they too roll up in a ball). I guess all the creepy crawlers have boogalooed to Texas. They're here-re-re!! I remember mason jars & lightning bugs. Maybe not the bugs, but the jars sure tell my age!

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    1. Anni--If they aren't the same, they're darn close. I'm not sure why we called them potato bugs--that's a misnomer. If you look up potato bug, what we called a potato bug is nowhere near anything pictured. The wood louse or pill bug is really what it is.

      It's nice to know that TX is one big bug jar for the northern part of the USA. Thank you for keeping the species safe down there.

      And we never used the Good Jars for bugs. We used old pickle or olive or whatever jars. The Mason jars were clean and shelved, waiting to go back to Grandma for canning.

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  5. I live in a place where I see fireflies every night in the summer but I went 3-4 decades without seeing any at all. The flood of dime-size frogs are like seeing a miracle in bloom aren't they. I've seen them three times in my life. And a couple of years ago I had a pot of mint and a pot of basil growing on my deck and a praying mantis spent over a week crawling around one or the other, can't remember which one. The young and old have the time to see and appreciate these things.

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    1. Jean--There you are! I thought something had happened when I didn't get a comment from you on my last post! ;-)

      Lucky you, seeing the wee frogs so often! I spent time every single summer of my young life at that cabin, and I only saw them that one time. You can see how big of an impression it made on me. I can still picture it vividly.

      I think you're right on with your final sentence. The bulk of our middle years rush by with such heavy, breakneck speed, full of responsibilities, obligations, and huge life events. It's entirely possible we've all missed more than we know.

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  6. Right now we have a few stink bugs trying their best to find a way to winter over in our house. We take turns checking our clothing for hitchhikers...
    As for the Mantis, check your hedges, if you see a brownish, walnut looking thing, almost like paper mache, hanging on one of the inside branches, it's a praying mantis nest. Around June for me, maybe earlier for you, the little mantis come out of the best... They come out of the nest one at a time hanging on the previous nest mate's abdomen until they reach the ground... It is very cool to watch..
    Happy Fall Bug finding...

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    1. Denise--Thanks for the tip about the mantis nest. I'll be watching. We have a lot of landscape shrubbery and plantings, so it will be hit or miss, but at least I know what I'm looking for.

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  7. I haven't been here long enough to compare year against year against year.

    But --- praying mantis seems about the same as last year. Not so many lightning bugs. And, off into the flora subject ----hardly ANY black walnuts on our tree this year. Last year we picked up over 1,000. 2020 is one weird year.

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    1. Dee--The black walnut behind us is producing plenty. I think, like fruit trees, they have off and on years. I detest that damn tree. So messy, and it impacts what we can plant in our own yard.

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  8. We don’t have fireflies/lightning bugs in California. I think they need more humidity and stay East of the Rockies, but I could easily be wrong about them. I remember the first time I saw them, I had helped my friend drive her car from CA to PA, from her father’s house to her mother’s house. I remember seeing them and being so excited, running inside and asking for a jar with which to catch them. Everyone thought I was kind of hilarious, they were very used to them. Fast forward to living in PA, about 10 years later (‘94 - ‘96), and we lived in a big apartment building. We seldom found ourselves strolling about at ground level at the right time of evening to see them, but it did happen a couple of times, and it was sort of magical.

    We do have bugs here, of course, and because it is more arid, probably fewer of them than you get all around. Not a bug, but your post reminds me of a job I had...I worked in an office park that had a couple of fountains and little streams, and 2 or 3 times I would arrive to work early (I worked 6-3 or 7-4, so my daughter wouldn’t have to spend as much time in after-school care), only to find a crawdad walking through the parking lot. I always wondered where they were going. I figured their life would be better if I intervened, so I would pick them up by their little lobster like tail and put them back in the pond.

    BTW, I guess I haven’t ever seen the praying mantis thing, even on a nature video. For some reason I thought it might be an urban legend, and doubted the veracity of such a gory story. Thank you for educating me. Also, gross. So glad I didn’t have to eat Ted’s head.

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    1. J@jj--No lightning bugs! How do you know when summer is really there? ;-)

      My brother used to catch crayfish (not sure if they're the same as crawdads but they look the same) in the Black River and bring them home to live briefly in the stationary tub in our basement. My mother was furious when she'd go downstairs to do laundry and find them there. Certainly you were a much better Samaritan than he, restoring your crawdads to their original habitat.

      I will continue to work at my own little Nature video so that I can bring its full gory wonderfulness to you.

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  9. Well, Nance, you just come on up to Wisconsin and we've got them all. Praying Mantis, walking sticks, tiny cute teeny weeny frogs, toads, fireflies by the gazillions, and now the weird lady bugs. I think they perhaps are doing better because of the befriend the pollinators movement. !!! Thanks for the headless mantis photo...rather Donner Party like

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    1. kathy b--I have been to Wisconsin--way way back in 1976. Lovely, lovely cows there. We stayed in an unfortunate place for a night called The Badger Motel in Toma. We had not much choice, and it was kind of a dump. My mother found several ticks, and we were absolutely not permitted to take off our socks. Obviously, we survived.

      I'm glad to hear that you are a sanctuary for such a wide variety of bugs and fauna. It's like our own Amazon Rainforest. Are the weird ladybugs the "Halloween Bugs", those large orange and black ones that bite? We get those, too, and they're a nuisance!

      LOL at the Donner Party reference. Only you...!

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  10. yummy. I caught a photo of a praying mantis riding the back of another....and thought...enjoy yourself now, because you are about to be in BIG trouble!!! they, too, disappeared. But, those little tree frogs have been prolific around here this summer. I brought a couple plants inside earlier inthe week when a near frost was predicted and two jumped out of the pots. Fireflies were back this summer after a rather lengthy hiatus. I attributed all the bug activity to the fact that the human activity this summer was down. we all know we're killing the planet...the bugs are going to be among the first to go!!!

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    1. steph--Lucky you with the wee frogs! They're so darn cute. And I've seen but a few lightning bugs this summer; none now, of course with summer gone.

      I think the increased activity around people's homes with building projects, landscaping, gardening, etc. is having a curious effect. Are people disturbing Nature more? Noticing more? I know this summer was extremely hot here in NEO. And the fires in California are displacing scores of birds, waterfowl, and I'm assuming, bugs. It will be interesting to see what ends up in other places.

      Conventional wisdom always assumed that the bugs would outlast everything, cockroaches specifically. I wonder if that's still the thought.

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  11. Well, by coincidence, the New Yorker magazine I was reading yesterday had a praying mantis joke. Two female mantises are talking and one says: "...and after they have sex they spend the next fifty years arguing about how to load the dishwasher! It's SO DISGUSTING!!" LOL!

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    1. Ellen D.--Oh, how timely! LOL! And so apropos of my own situation here at the Dept., except that there is Zero Arguing anymore. I stopped even trying to load the dishwasher years ago. I merely stand back and allow The Expert to have at it.

      Love The New Yorker comics. They often nail it perfectly and succinctly.

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  12. I know what you mean, though I assume I don't see grasshoppers around because there aren't many meadows or big lawns in the city. I still see plenty of other insects, and I still wish that all mosquitoes would die, but I do know what you mean.

    I see raccoons and opossums now and then, and we have lots of flowers that bees and butterflies seem to like, which pleases me.

    And if you ever want to see a pill bug again, visit our basement - it seems to be Pill Bug National Headquarters!

    Ah, the praying mantis - now you know what they are praying for ... ;-)

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    1. Bridget--How lovely that you are ranching pill bugs at your house. Is there no end to your kindness?

      For years and years and years, I was immune to mosquitos. My skin was so acidic that they wanted nothing to do with me. Enter menopause and now they cannot leave me alone. So I share your wish for their mass demise.

      Good line about the praying mantis!

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  13. I really want to see the video - does that mean I'm disturbed? I tried to embed a Roy video in a post the other week & it never would work, but my puzzle video from Wednesday was fine. I did that post on my iPad - I wonder if that's why it worked? Who knows - as you said above, Blogger is being a bitch these days!

    P.S. I thought maybe this post was about me. Ha!

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    1. Bug--NOT EVERYTHING IS ABOUT YOU! LOL.

      I really want to show everyone this video, so I prefer to think neither of us is disturbed. If you use Blogger's post editor to write your blog, email me as to how you posted your video from your iPad and I'll try it that way. Include which browser you used. Thanks!

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    2. As I’ve gotten older I have sadly realized that everything is not about me. But one does live in hope!

      Working on the email right now.

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  14. I also grew up playing and admiring bugs; I was famous for collecting and keeping lizards. I don't have too many praying mantis here in Florida (which I'm ok with because they eat butterflies!) but at our place in the mountains our porch is covered with leaf bugs (Katydids) praying mantis is stick bugs; I'm both fascinated and freaked out by them. :) Oh, and we saw lightning bugs too; they're lovely.
    What a great memory making post; I hope your girl has found her next mate and can continue the life cycle.

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    1. BBSuz--I've heard the bugs in Florida, esp. South Florida, are legendary. And huge. I've visited West Palm Beach and the Orlando area many times, but usually in the winter months to escape the cold here in NEO. I don't recall the bugs.

      Katydids are making a comeback around here, too. And right now there are fuzzy caterpillars of every kind everywhere you look.

      No lizards in NEO, but I'm fascinated by the little skinks I've seen when visiting friends in Southern Maryland. Little lizards, I'm okay with. I know you're partial to butterflies and keep them going. So rewarding!

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  15. I, too, remember catching a jar full of fireflies to set bedside when I was little in Central Ohio. I'd go to sleep watching their blinking lights. Even though holes were punched in the jar's lid, there were always a few dead ones in the morning which alarmed me so I didn't want to capture more. I recall encountering many of the other creatures you mention but seem to be fewer of most of them. I haven't seen any fireflies since we moved to the west coast.

    Fascinating about your praying mantis pair. Should have been named preying mantis. Wish I could have seen your video. I did buy small containers of mantis eggs at a local gardening store a couple years, hatched them and then put them out on my plants as instructed. They were so tiny. I'm afraid the mockingbirds may have eaten them because I never saw any on plants in the days and weeks ahead.

    I've encountered migrating butterflies a couple times in recent years. One day I went out to my driveway and into a seemingly never-ending river of small white butterflies. I just stood there for a few minutes with them flying all around and above me. Then, even after I got in my car I didn't want to drive. I wished they would fly higher as they swooped and crashed into autos as I drove on to famous old Route 66, but, of course, cars couldn't avoid them.

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    1. Joared--Yes, lightning bugs never seemed to survive the night inside that jar. How selfish we were to take them for our own amusement.

      You know, I made sure to look up the name Praying Mantis just to be certain of the spelling just because of that particular proclivity. I was 99.99% sure of the spelling, but I was caught so by surprise seeing the mating quirk with my own eyes that it made me doubt myself.

      I wish I could see your butterfly migration myself. How lovely and how singular. I'd feel the same way about driving as you did then. Poor things.

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    1. Rejani Rehana--Thanks, and welcome to the Dept.!

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