Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Fathering Instinct: Praying Mantids

One of the most underrated aspects of young males is the fathering instinct, similar and in no ways lesser than the more well known mothering instinct. Never is this irresistible urge more evident than in our owning of pets. Pets of any size often act as the training wheels for future human babies, teaching the owner(yes, you own your baby) the requisite skills of dedication, training, teaching, and most importantly, spoiling.

Why am I writing this, some may wonder. Isn't it obvious? I have training wheels of my own now: 1 inch, spineless, bloodthirsty pseudo-babies. The apples of my eye, las niƱas de mis ojos, my four praying mantids.

This is what you need to be imagining now.

How did they come into my life? Well, as it should be, they came to me the way I came into this world - with the assistance of my father. He brought an egg sac with him to the beach a few weeks ago, an egg sac that had just let loose dozens of baby mantids. He had to bring them to the beach so they would not die - he needed to keep them alive for his biology students.

Egg sac.

I felt a burning desire deep within me when I first saw the multitude of infants in the white cage. I wanted nothing else but to take care of them, to feed them, watch them grow, and to brag about them to everyone. So, never being one to disobey my urges, I got permission from Father to take four of them with me back to Carrboro.

As soon as I got home I went out and bought a delux cage for them... NOT. I cut open a juice bottle and stuck them in there. I tossed in the handful of fruit flies that Father pawned off on me, and I let them be for the night.

Normally the first thing I do when I wake up is walk into the shower with my eyes closed. I then brush my teeth in the shower with my eyes still closed, and perhaps by the end I will open them. However, the first morning with my mantids I did not do this. Instead I lurched out of bed(earplugs still in) and leapt over to my desk to take ahold of the juice bottle and raised it to the light. Peering through the plastic, time stood still.

Since that fateful morning, my life has changed. No longer am I living for myself. No longer is my life the only life that depends on me. I've got 5 lives to take care of. Since then I have upgraded their accomodations. I have traps set outside for fruit flies. I take them on long drives in the Jetta - windows down, lid cracked. If we go through the drive-thru at Wendy's, I stop at a patch of clover to snag them some flies as well.

In the words of the Spice Girls, 5 have become 1. I will now give you a quick tour of our lives together:

This is their new palace. It is a converted fish tank with all the amenities: a rotten piece of apple for the flies, a piece of our kitchen sponge, and of course, ornamental seaweed.

Another angle.

So the next aspect of this tour that needs to be addressed concerns their food. I feel the need to have food constantly available to them, otherwise I start to get stressed out. What if they are hungry and can't tell me? There is no real simple way to keep a constant stream of snacks flowing into this container, but I am doing the best I can. Here is what I do:

First I bust up some fruit and stick it in a yogurt container. Then I set it out in my front yard and leave it to simmer. After a few hours I return and put a top on it, trapping fruit flies inside. But how to get the flies from there into the mantis' cage? Here is where I get a bit ridiculous.

In case this picture hasn't explained the process to you, I'll explain it a bit further. I take the yogurt container into my bathroom, close the door, and release the flies. Now I have them in a contained space with minimal obstacles between me and them. Most of them go straight for the shower walls or window, easy spots to catch them. Next, I use the pictured vial to catch them one by one and tap it quickly into the terrarium. Usually it's about 10 flies per batch and it takes about 5 minutes. Yes, that might sound a bit arduous, but I enjoy it.

The rest of the day I let them be. I want them to be independent, I want them to learn how to hunt by themselves.

I know that there will come a day when this won't work anymore. These mantids are Chinese Mantids, which, ironically, means that they are the largest species around. Soon they will look like this:

Their childhood will end. They will enter adolescence and they will soon be able to draw blood when they strike me, but I promise, no matter what they say or do, I will keep working for them. If they are lucky and don't lose any legs while molting and die, one day they will be adults with families of their own(unless they are boys, then their wives will eat them). But either way, when that day comes, let us pray that I will be willing to let them go. And I think I will be willing, as long as they don't move out of the yard and keep their cell phone on.


  1. sheer brilliance! about the fly transfer, what if you put the yogurt container in the freezer for a second so they're too cold to fly, then kinda scoop/pour them into the vial? just a thought.

  2. sis U brilliant. i finna try and let u kno

  3. so...what happened next? I found a baby mantis when I went to the amazonian jungle and I brought it home. I live in Lima, Peru. It was only like 4mm long but it grew fast. Started as a black thin big ant and then every 2 weeks approx it changed the old skin and turned larger. It became bright-green. After like 6 months something went wrong during a skin change and his body took an "L" shape. That's when she became slower and could not hunt as well as she used to. I had to find little moths so she could hunt. Finally she died and I felt so sad and so guilty :(