The praying mantises hatched today. We got out magnifying glasses, microscope, fruit flies in a jar, and watched for a while.
The manual suggests that we keep a few bugs for observation and release the rest into the garden, where they'll provide natural pest control. Problem: Snow, clouds, rain, sun, hail. Repeat in random order, with below-freezing temperatures at night just for fun. (Hellll-ooooooo! Mother Nature, it's mid-April, for goodness sake!) It's too cold to be releasing little critters into the wild. So I'm left with the dilemma of how to feed and water over one hundred babies. I've only got so many fruit flies in that little fruit fly vial.
Well, the food part isn't much of a problem. Praying mantises are predaceous and voracious. And cannibalistic when necessary. No one will starve to death.
Want a praying mantis or ten? Stop by my house--you can take some home in a jar. (I'm not joking, by the way. We sent some home with dear friend who was unfortunate enough to stop by this afternoon with her young bug-lover.) They're really cute and fun and cuddly! Er, sort of. In a weird space alien don't-crawl-on-me sort of way.
I lied. I don't think they're cute. Fascinating, yes. Good for the garden and interesting to watch, sure. Creepy, absolutely.
Here's a link to a really cool site: Using Live Insects in Elementary Classrooms. The lesson plans are written for grades K-3, and include lessons with praying mantises, crickets, ladybugs, and more. Even if you're not interested in actually teaching the lessons, it's a valuable resource. Each lesson plan includes a "Set-Up" section, with links to an informative fact sheet and a care sheet for the insect covered in that lesson.
ABC Teach has a Bug Theme Unit, lots of activity and coloring sheets, many with a praying mantis theme.
Praying mantis care and development:
And if you get a chance, try to watch Alien Insect: Praying Mantis on the Discovery Channel. I think it'll be on again in May. We watched the show shortly after the egg case came in the mail. Way cool. You get to see a praying mantis eating a snake. Actually, the whole show is pretty much praying mantises eating. Bugs, mice, snakes, birds, each other. 'Cause that's what they do, attack things and eat them. Fascinating. (But not cute.)