Monday, August 13, 2007


So often, it seems, as I grow older, I feel the predictability of the seasons. The child-like wonder is forgotten. The rhythms and rituals have become familiar. Some days I go out, knowing well what I will find there—and am surprised that it is not as I would have expected. As I walk this property, memories of things observed here in years past, are jostled—adjusted by differences in this year’s weather, the progression of the trees, the evolution of the pond…
Nature continues to teach new things. It cannot be predicted. Yesterday was one of those days.

The milkweed patch has been a success this year—better than ever in size and butterfly production. And I visit it every day, sometimes twice to watch the activity it attracts. I know who to expect to find there, and where. It has become as familiar to me as a room in my house. I could walk through it in the dark without tripping.
But yesterday, things were different.

I usually consider myself fortunate to find one or two praying mantids by the end of the summer. I know they lay hundreds of eggs in the foamy masses, but don’t usually encounter too many adults. They’re always so curious to look at, as they turn and look back at me--triangular heads resembling alien life forms. And, I’ve captured them in empty mayonnaise jars, to marvel at for an afternoon. Such a prize to find even one.

In the milkweed patch yesterday, on just 20 plants, I spotted 7 mantids! They were hanging everywhere—upside down from the broad leaves, their brown bodies waiting motionlessly for dinner to walk or flutter by. I was astonished to see so many. Each one of good size, some almost 6 inches long. Spending their day, hunting in the milkweed patch.

I’ve been enjoying some of the essays of Ora Anderson, a self-taught naturalist, journalist, conservationist, artist who lived to the limit of his days, 94 years, on a farm in southeastern Ohio, passing away just last August.
His marvel at the newness of each season through his keen eye, never tiring of observing and learning from immersion in the natural world. How, even after 94 years, "the riches of yesterday are replaced by new treasures today--and tomorrow."

I should have known better than to feel nature can ever be predictable.

Chinese Mantid, Tendora aridifolia

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Mary C said...

Thanks for sharing your photos, Nina. I really am fascinated by these creatures. That is quite a find to locate that many in a small space. Great close-up shots.

RuthieJ said...

Hi Nina,
Cool Mantis pictures! I've never seen a real one, but maybe I should start looking a little closer at my milkweed plants! We should have this insect in Minnesota, right?
P.S. I finished Prodigal Summer yesterday afternoon. I was sad, I wanted the story to keep going and now I'll just have to continue their lives in my imagination. Thanks for recommending it.

Lynne said...


I've never seen that insect before either. Your photos are wonderful. I want a milkweed patch next year. Did you buy the plants or save seed from a fall patch and plant them?

possumlady said...

I LOVE praying mantis!! They are probably my most favorite insect. I have all sizes in my yard--from tiny thumbnail babies to the size in your photos. I have stood on my front porch at night with the light on and have been "bonked" in the head many times by one flying past.

Cathy said...

Oh. That over-the-shoulder look. Isn't it a little disconcerting when nature looks so squarely back? I guess a little thrilling, too?

I just ordered the book, "A Bird Watcher's Year". I'm glad you introduced us to Ora Anderson. Now I have something to look for in the mail.

nina said...

I think those who can express the beauty and intricacies of nature in a written form--whether someone as learned as Barbara Kingsolver or as passionate as Ora Anderson, does a great thing in bringing that world to so many who would, otherwise, not experience it, or care to.
Their writing is artful and illuminating. It is a gift sent in a lovely package.

And, yes, I think mantids should be just about anywhere, but the cooler climate may mean their appearance or numbers may be later and less? Not only do I grow big weeds, I have big Bugs, too!

cestoady said...

My O My, what a splendid insect!! (and so BIG) -- and what dramatic pictures to show it off.

I see it has a very descriptive species name -- " aridifolia" -- that means : dried leaves. Very fitting wouldn't you say ??

Now that almost EVERYTHING is made in China -- they even are sending us a spectacular mantis -- what is next ??

Q said...

Dear Nina,
These are wonderful Mantids!
I too adore them. Such an ancient species. I usually see them in september. Like you said we never know! Mother Nature is always changing and showing us marvels.
Thank you for telling us about the nature writers.
Over to Amazon I shall go!

Body Soul Spirit said...

Great pictures and an interesting book recommendation. thanks!

LauraHinNJ said...

Great find - it seems the milkweed patch is THE place to be!

I found one of those in my bedroom once, years ago, but I haven't found any since here in my garden.

Mary said...

Bravo, Nina! Great post. You are very observant and your photos of those mantids perfectly as aliens. I love them and will look for them.

Like Lynne, I want a milkweed patch next year. It's on my list - a very long list.

nina said...

Laura--apparently the hugest ones were introduced as a beneficial insect--now more of a pest because of its predation on native species of mantids (as well as garden pests)so it may be good that you aren't seeing any. They can't be taught what to eat and what to leave alone!

LauraO said...

Nina, catching up here - what great photos of the mantis! Thanks for sharing them. I've always thought we're very lucky that a praying mantis isn't six feet long!

dguzman said...

MONTY! (my official name for all praying mantids