Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Regal Fritillary Butterfly

The Vanishing Regal

(Photo By: Ray Moranz)

When we think of endangered species---if we think of them at all; we typically
think of our Nations greatest success story the Bald Eagle, or perhaps we think of
the Manatee---of which the legend of mermaids was born. Maybe for you it is the
Florida Panther that stirs in you a deep sadness at its possible demise. For me it is a
creature until a few summers ago I had not even heard of much less seen, and this
lovely creature calls our beautiful state of Missouri home. I am speaking of the
Regal Fritillary (pronounced Frit-a-Larry) unless you don’t mind strange looks
then you can pronounce it fri-till-ery rhymed with artillery )as I did for quite some
time. Although this beautiful butterfly does not evoke in us the soul stirring
patriotism of the Nation’s greatest symbol, or the mystery and myth of the
manatee, it nevertheless is a creature worthy of our admiration and protection.

My story took place a few summers ago, after receiving an email from the Idalia
Society(A wonderful organization based in KC for all you butterfly lovers)that a
gentleman by the name of Ray Moranz was seeking help with his dissertation
research of the regal fritillary butterfly in Missouri, Oklahoma and Kansas prairies.
I contacted Ray, and spoke with him about his research and offered to help out one
day that summer. He was doing a comparative study of the prairie habitat of the
regal fritillary; studying populations over a 2 year period of time on burned, grazed
and untouched prairies. I am intensely curious myself at this point, how the
different habitat types would affect populations of these beautiful butterflies. Ray
was grateful for any help I was able to give and after speaking with my husband
we set up a date to meet Ray and his assistant, Laura, in Nevada Missouri in July.
We made the decision to incorporate this adventure with our family vacation and
headed south. We arrived in Nevada, MO early evening just in time to have dinner
with Ray & Laura. He spoke at great length about his research, and studies.
His love of these creatures was apparent and his passion contagious. I could hardly
wait to get on the prairie and meet these beauties up close.

After a good night’s sleep we met up with Ray and Laura early in the morning.
Everyone decided that a large breakfast was in order, well, almost everyone. I had
serious doubts about a huge breakfast right before heading to the prairie, seems I
was the only one who remembered there are no trees on a prairie much less a
bathroom. I opted for a light breakfast, although no one else seemed to have
reservations about a hearty breakfast.

Our first stop was Taberville prairie, where we were greeted by two of Ray’s
assistants from MDC. At this point my body didn’t seem to care that I had ate a
“light” breakfast. A bathroom stop was going to be in order and soon. Imagine my
distress. I am faced with 4 people I have never met before, I am on a prairie, not a
bathroom or tree in sight, and my stomach decides to go haywire! Talk about bad
timing. I am fast reaching the panic mode when my husband suggested a clump of
grass. You have got to be kidding me!!! Are you envisioning this? After locating
what seemed to be a promising clump of prairie grass I managed to take care of
business ( don’t ask me how) and returned to the group in short order, all dignity
out the window. At this point it was grin and move on.

We drove for awhile further out into the prairie where Ray had areas previously
cordoned off for his research. We divided into two teams. It was Ray, I and one of
the MDC employees. My husband Joey went with Laura and the MDC volunteer.
After Ray gave us our instructions we headed into our designated areas. Ray was in
the lead scouting for butterflies, I was behind him with a clip board and pen
writing down species names as he spotted them, including what activity they were
engaging in, whether it was perching, nectaring, or flying etc...Ray seemed
somewhat impressed with my knowledge of butterfly species and an easy rapport
soon followed. I was completely intrigued by his studies. Behind us bringing up
the rear was our man from MDC carrying a large pole and a clip board, he used the
10 foot pole as a guide to document the prairie flowers within the perimeter of the
pole. This was my first time on a prairie and I was completely absorbed in
everything around me. My first sight of a Regal was one I won’t soon forget, truly
an apt name, for such a beautiful butterfly. From a distance they seem much like a
monarch. After a closer inspection the differences are obvious. As we walked
through the tall grasses, and brambles (yes, brambles, the prairies are loaded with
blackberries, and I paid dearly for not dressing appropriately) we continued to
startle Regal’s out from their hiding places near the ground. We spotted numerous
species, but none as impressive as these large orange and black beauties.
The other team which was out of sight consisted of Laura scouting butterflies, the
MDC volunteer documenting her findings and Joey using the pole to identify the
flower species. Now keep in mind, what my husband knows about wildflowers is
almost nil, he received a crash course in the flowers he was likely to see and
headed out pole in hand to document the best he could what flowers he seen. I am
sure all the while wondering what in the heck I got him into this time. We spent
approximately an hour and a half on this prairie. After meeting back up with the
other group we headed back to our cars and it was decided that Joey and I would
head back to the Hotel and pick up our daughter and nephew and drive further
south and meet up with Ray and Laura at another location. We arrived back at the
hotel packed up and drove to Lamar, Missouri.

We arrived in Lamar ahead of Ray and Laura, checked into the hotel. Got the kids
settled and started the second leg of our adventure. This time it was to Bethal
Prairie. By now the gorgeous weather we had earlier in the day was giving way to
typical Missouri July heat. Temperatures were fast approaching the mid 90’s and
the sun was blazing high in the sky.

We arrived at Bethal Prairie, this time just Ray, Laura, Joey and I. We divided into
two teams. Laura and myself; then Ray and Joey. After being given our
instructions Laura and I ventured into the prairie, leaving Joey and Ray behind. We
had not walked but 50 feet when I grabbed Laura and told her to stop, she was
absolutely covered in ticks, when I say covered, believe me I am not exaggerating.
I spent several minutes picking these pesky little critters off her, only to discover I
was in a similar situation. I too was covered. At this point I felt like a couple of
monkeys on the prairie picking pests off each other. This was only the beginning,
we walked for what seemed like miles, in the heat, picking ticks, and scrambling
through blackberries. It was at this point that I got the sneaking suspicion that Ray
sent us in this direction on purpose. Fortunately I have a great sense of humor and I
was able to persevere. We finally finished collecting data from this portion of the
prairie. We reached a barb-wired fence, with mowed grass on the other side. I
knew exactly how a cow felt when they decided to test the grass on the other side.
We had two options at this point, one was to continue on the prairie fighting
blackberries and sumac, not to mention the ticks, or we could climb the fence and
be free of this torture. For me it was a no-brainer. I climbed that fence in record
time. Only to discover; that Laura was struggling to get herself over the fence, it
was at this point it became apparent that years of farm life and scaling fences had
paid off. I managed to help Laura out of her quandary and we began our long walk
back to the truck. She was pleasant company and the walk passed in no time. We
climbed in the truck, and headed out to meet up with the guys on the other side of
their portion of the prairie. After more climbing, this time a gate. We met up with
the guys near the end of their trek. If it was at all possible, Joey and Ray seemed
almost invigorated after their walk in the prairie. I knew it…Ray DID send us to
the nasty portion of the prairie. I was still finding ticks!

We drove back to get our car, and it was at this point that I realized that I fought
the blackberries and they won…my ankles were completely swollen and red,
covered in scratches that were bleeding. That will teach me to listen when I’m told
to wear long pants on the prairie; there is good reason for this advice. I could
blame no one but my own stubborn self, and my desire to be just a bit cooler in the
July heat that everyone else that was present. It was days before the redness and
swelling went down and weeks before the scratches healed. It was a daily reminder
of our adventure into the prairie, seeking these elusive regals.
(Photo By: Ray Moranz)

These butterflies are quite large with a wingspan of 2.9 -3.8 inches. They have the
very similar markings of orange and black such as the familiar monarch. The
similarities end there, upon closer inspection the hindwings are quite different;
dark above and covered with white spots below. The forewings possess short dark
lines running crosswise to the wing veins, unlike Monarchs who do not possess
these lines. The females have a dark patch at the wing tip and a row of small white
spots along the outer margin, on the upperwing ; the spots are pale yellow, whereas
the males spots are white on the inner row and the outer row is orange.

The regal fritillary is listed as a species of concern in Missouri.

The main reason for this is loss of habitat. The tall grass prairie is the only known
habitat for these butterflies. With only approximately 2% of our prairies remaining
in the state of Missouri, and most of the prairie states that call home to this
butterfly are in similar situations. It is a fight for survival for the regal. That is why
it is so important that research such as what Ray is doing be carried out. If his
research brings with it; better managed prairie habitat and a wider awareness of the
needs of these butterflies then it is possible that these flying flowers may be with
us for many more generations.

The needs of the regal are very specific; the only acceptable host plant for the larva
is the violet. The female after breeding will fly to the ground and walk among the
vegetation laying eggs willy nilly, up to 2400 eggs can be laid by a single female.
Once the eggs are laid they will hatch in the fall, and the resulting caterpillar will
overwinter in the prairie under vegetation. In the spring these hungry little eaters
will begin searching for their host plants and start feeding. If violets are in ready
supply they will grow rapidly. One problem is the managed burns on prairies, if
done too soon; the young larva will surely perish in the fire. Other reasons for the
decline of these butterflies are possible; everything from habitat loss, to disease,
the use of chemicals, and the haphazard egg laying practices of the female, make it
a candidate for problems. By looking at populations on these different types of
managed prairies, over a period of years, it will be in all likelihood possible to help
the populations of these butterflies grow, or at the very least stay stable.

It would be a great loss indeed to ever lose these great flyers of the prairie. Many
times in our lives we become so busy with day to day living that we find it hard to
think about such small matters as the loss of one butterfly. Sometimes we may
even find ourselves saying that if the loss of one butterfly means the greater good
of commerce by supplying us with more strip malls and farm land, then it is a loss
worth taking, I say hogwash! We should never become so arrogant or conditioned
to let ourselves think in such a way. After all once we lose something so beautiful
it is too late to get it back. Imagine the world today without the bald eagle, (which
was once hunted as pest). For me the world without the regal fritillary would be a
sad one indeed.

Let me encourage you to venture out and explore the prairies, and
see if you too aren’t immediately drawn to the wonder that is the prairie, and the
beautiful flying flowers that call it home.

Saturday, January 23, 2010


 Today I met with one of my very best friends, LuAnn. We shared lunch and a delicious orange/cranberry cake and great conversation. We also shared or exchanged rather, our Christmas gifts. Yea, I know, a bit late. Better late than never though I always say. This has become ritual for us the past few years, as it seems with the Holidays, family obligations, traveling, shopping, cooking and weather it just always becomes a struggle to get together before Christmas, or at least NEAR Christmas. We just laugh about it, and plan a day in January, this prolongs the excitement of gift giving (and receiving). Her and I are both overgrown children at heart and giggle and share secrets like a couple of school girls. These occasions when we can find time to get together and catch up on life are some of my favorite.

(Lu is in the foreground)

Well this year she surprised me with two wonderful gifts, one is a handcrafted dragonfly made of wood that balances from a magnet to give the illusion of flight. It is completely lovely and a treasure to be sure. The second gift was this book pictured here....Insectlopedia. It is authored and illustrated by Douglas Florian. This book is so clever and full of wonderfully endearing poems about insects. They are written for young readers, but certainly can be enjoyed by readers of all ages. Lu, knowing my love of insects and poetry found the perfect gift to give her very grateful friend. I've spent the time since I got home this afternoon looking through the book and reading the poems. The artwork is enchanting and absolutely gorgeous. The poems will capture young readers and teach them a bit about the species for which the poem is written. Such as this example:

The Praying Mantis

Upon a twig
I sit and pray
For something big
To wend my way:
A caterpillar,
Or bee--
I swallow them

If you have a budding entomologist in your family and want a wonderful gift that is sure to put a smile on their face I would recommend this poetic journey into the insect world.

Thanks Lu, for knowing the most perfect gift to give, and for just being an awesome, super amazing person and friend!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Jumpin Momma

Jumping spiders in the family Salticidae are very common spiders found throughout North America. In fact with over 4,400 known species Worldwide they are the largest group of spiders. Many of us are familiar with the furry black spiders that appear in our homes and crawl across our ceilings. These uninvited guests cause quite a stir among arachna-phobes. They can be intimidating with their habit of moving quickly and often times jumping at their prey or even you! One day while out exploring the gardens I came across a web of sorts attached to the leaf of a milkweed. I had no idea what was in it, but I could see movement. Being the ever curious person I am, I just had to figure this out.I gently peeled apart the very end of the web, and imagine my surprise when these large adorable eyes peeked back at me. I did not realize these spiders created a web like this and I just had to know what she was hiding.

As you can see by this picture she was protecting eggs.Once I realized what she was doing (being a good momma) I felt bad for disturbing her and exposing her eggs. I felt so thick-headed for not figuring out that she was guarding eggs. After all it was obvious that is what she HAD to be doing. Sometimes I am so dense. 
While I see these spiders all the time,  I've yet to witness this behavior before this occasion. Of all the spiders found around our farm these and crab spiders are my favorites. They almost seem to possess a personality. Not to mention they are crazy cute.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Black-Horned Tree Cricket and other Orthoptera

( Black-Horned Tree Cricket )

I have been sorting through some of the photographs from 2009 and making some attempt at cataloging them. I thought I would share some of the ones I had forgotten about or otherwise had not shared yet.

(Black-Legged Meadow Katydid)

Oh...he is so BUSTED!

Apparently without a full frontal face image, it is next to impossible to identify these katydids to species. All I know for certain is that it is some type of Conenose and they are closely related to katydids.

(Another Black-Legged Meadow Katydid)

These are a fun subject to photograph. They are magnificently colored, and relatively easy to approach.

And another, seeing pattern yet?

Yep, it is another, if you couldn't tell I love these katydid's

(Mystery Tree Cricket)
There are so many light green tree crickets that it is difficult at first glance to know what they are. I do not have an identity for this little fellow, but she/ he is such a lovely shade of lime green I thought I would share.

Oh yea, another Black-Legged Meadow Katydid

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Stilt Bug

This long legged bug is aptly named the Stilt Bug (Family: Berytidae). With those extra long legs, they look very much like they are walking on stilts. Have you ever tried walking on stilts? For me it was an exhausting feat in and of itself just to get on them, much less try to walk. Fortunately for these guys it comes natural.

Even with those magnificently long legs, these are not very large bugs. They typically reach lengths up to 1/2 inch. When you first come across one of these bugs, you might be quick to think they are mosquitoes, and they actually do resemble them quite a lot. They are really in the order Hemiptera, which are the true bugs and are more closely related to Box Elder Bugs than mosquitoes. They will not sting, bite or otherwise bother you. No itchy welts from these guys. Stilt bugs feed on sweets like plant nectar and possibly small insects as well as insect eggs. Identifying these guys beyond genus is really difficult and usually requires close examination under a microscope. They are a relatively small group of insects with approximately 100 species. A few have transcended from feeding on flowers to sampling our garden crops like tomatoes, or gourds. Some species even seem to need a nicotine fix and feed on tobacco. None of these particular species or their feeding preferences seem to have a damaging affect on the crops. In fact they may actually be there to feed on other insects that are attracted to those same crops. It seems when looking up information on these odd little bugs, there are many conflicting accounts as to their diet.

In the spring they are very plentiful in our backyard, and can be found on all manner of flowering plants. Like the yarrow in the second picture. The first photograph was taken at Happy Holler Conservation Area in September. They can be difficult to see as they are very tiny, thin and non-descript in their coloring. Often they are easily overlooked, but slow, quiet movements through the flowers or vegetation will most likely prove productive and you will see them.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Giant Ichneumon

This gorgeous insect is a Giant Ichneumon (Megarhyssa macrurus). They are found throughout most of the United States, as well as Southern Canada and Mexico. They are large relatives to wasps with a body length up to 2 inches. The females are much longer with their ovipositor factored in. The one pictured here is a female. They use that long extension (ovipositor) not for stinging, but for depositing eggs within decaying stumps. After mating, the female will seek the larvae of another insect called a pigeon horntail (tremex columba) which are found in rotting wood. She will then drill that ovipositor into a stump, log or other piece of wood and lay her eggs on the horntail larvae. Depending upon the depth of the larvae she is after it may take her  up to an hour to reach her quarry and lay her eggs. I always wonder how the female "knows" that the horntail larvae are even present. Do they hear the vibrations of the larvae as it tunnel through the wood? Do they feel them as they move under their feet? Is there a subtle change in the density of the wood that they can feel with their antennae? However they do it, it sure is amazing.

  When the eggs hatch the newly born larva will feed on the horntail larvae. Once the larvae have entirely consumed the horntail, they will pupate and emerge as adults a few weeks later. The female seems to prefer trees that are 2 to 3 years into decay. The one pictured here was flying around an old Silver Maple tree stump. I am pretty sure the stump was home to many horntail larvae, as I had seen the adults frequenting the stump. I assume they had laid eggs within the stump, which in turn attracted the giant ichneumon. As adults they do not feed. In spite of their ominous appearance these insects are harmless to humans and do not sting. Good thing too....could you imagine?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Oklahoma Brown Tarantula

This beautiful spider is the Oklahoma Brown Tarantula (Aphonopelma hentzi). They are native to Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas and Missouri. They are sometimes called the Texas Brown Tarantula. Their common name comes from their beautiful chocolate brown coloring. Their carapace is a lovely shade of caramel. Mature males will take on a copper hue on their carapace. These are an averaged sized tarantula with a body size up to 2 inches and a leg span up to 4 or 5 inches. The one pictured here I purchased off of a breeder at a local reptile show. I thought she would make a good addition to my nature programs. Adults and children alike are sure to be fascinated by her, and amazed that we actually do have tarantulas in Missouri. This particular species is not known to be aggressive, and are finding a following in the pet trade. They are especially good for beginner tarantula owners, such as myself. I am gradually working up my nerve to handle her. This is a huge feat for me, a self-proclaimed hater of spiders. Okay...I don't actually HATE spiders, they just scare the poo outta me. You might say this beautiful little girl is my therapy, in overcoming my fears. In the second picture you can see I did let her crawl part way onto my hand. This is going to be a slow process....I can tell that already...LOL

In the wild these spiders prefer dry rocky glades. In Missouri they will be found throughout the southern portion of the state where the habitat is much more suitable to them. Harry S. Truman State Park seems to have a large population of these spiders. Shy by nature, they are quick to retreat and hide from humans. Most people are naturally intimidated by these large hairy spiders, but they are far more scared of you than you are of them (trust me). These spiders are capable of spinning silk, just like any spider, they just do not spin webs. At least not the typical webs that we normally associate with spiders. Instead they will reside in old rodent dens and other natural cavities, and spin a nice silken lining within this hide-out. They will rest inside these burrows during the hottest parts of the day. When the sun begins to set, these spiders become active and leave their dens to look for food. Typically they will dine on grasshoppers, crickets and other arthropods, but it is not unusual for them to feed on young mice, amphibians and baby birds. Yes, many tarantulas can climb, and this particular species is very adept at it. Late in the summer and early fall many who live in Southern Missouri may have witnessed the males of this species crossing the highways and other roadways throughout the Ozark area. These large migrations of males is not fully studied or documented in Missouri as it has been in other states. One may assume they are seeking females with which to mate. I would hate to think of these gorgeous spiders being squished under the tires of all those passing vehicles, and I guess it is too much to ask for motorist to slow down, pull over or otherwise try NOT TO run over them. After all, a lot of peoples natural instinct is to kill spiders, and being able to use a 2 ton vehicle probably offers them some satisfaction in that endeavor.   I could not find any information about their population stability in Missouri, I would assume they are stable. If this species is something you think you might like to own, I would recommend finding a breeder and purchase one. Removing them from the wild  may in fact be illegal, always wise to find out. On top of that you are taking from the wild a natural predator that helps control harmful insect populations. Then there is the consideration, that by purchasing one from a breeder you are more likely to get a "tame" one that is reluctant to bite. Whereas a wild caught one, may be more defensive and prone to try and bite. Anytime you are dealing with a creature like tarantulas, that possess large fangs, there is always the possibility of a bite, so removing one of the variables is probably wise. The captive bred tarantulas have been breed over several generations and are used to human sights, sounds and smells. I will keep you all posted as to how the tarantula handling comes along on my end....

Monday, January 4, 2010

My Bug Room/ Library

It seems entomologists all have a desire to have a "Bug Room". While I am not officially an entomologist, I am no different in my desire to have one of these natural history rooms in my house. If you aren't a "Bug lover" perhaps there are other things within nature that inspire you, and you desire a room that reflects that. I love all aspects of nature and needed to get my "things" from all over the house, and locate them in one place where they could be enjoyed and appreciated. We are cramped for space around here with each room in the house occupied, either by myself and my hubby or our children or just normal living spaces, like kitchen, bathrooms and living room. My desire to have one of these rooms to display my varied collectibles and treasures was delegated to the basement. We live in a 1950's ranch style house with a concrete block basement.

One corner of the basement was an old canning kitchen with cabinets that were precariously hanging from the foundation. I got my son to help me with demolition and it wasn't long before we had those cabinets down and burned. They were so old they went up like tinder. Once the cabinets were removed and all the junk cleared from the space, it was time to decide on a wall color. 


 My husband made makeshift walls out of lattice to "box" the room off. The remaining two walls needed paint. I finally decided on a dark navy blue for one wall, and the other is painted a grayish-purple. Next project was painting the floor. I opted for something durable and practical and used gray porch paint. The fumes nearly ran us out of the house, but the floor is clean now. One lattice wall was left to hang pictures and posters from, and the other was covered in curtains in a pattern that is reflected in the paint color. I have a collection of old quilts and utilized them to cover some chairs I found at a garage sale. A large rag rug was laid on the floor for color and for warmth. I purchased a few bookshelves. I carried untold amounts of books from all corners of the house to the basement. I grouped them by type. Insect guides, bird guides, mushroom guides, tree guides...etc. There are two bookshelves located at the doorway to my room that blocks the view to the furnace and creates much more needed book space. These shelves hold my photography books and all my fiction novels. The desk in the room was another garage sale find, for $2.00, and it already had a great crackled paint finish. The pale green glass front display cabinet is one of my greatest treasures. My brother (now deceased) built it in woodworking class when he was in high school, it was made to be a gun cabinet. He later gave it to our grandfather who turned into a bookcase. He stained it a horrible dark walnut. I inherited it several years ago and painted it a light mint green and crackled it, then stenciled lavender roses on it. It holds an antique teacup collection that belonged to my grandmother, as well as many other little treasures collected over the years. 

I am able to display my photography here as well as my insect collections and numerous other "finds". I use this room more than I can tell you, I've spent untold amounts of hours here, reading, researching and writing. This room inspires me and uplifts me. If at all possible, everyone should have a room in their home that reflects their personality. Even if you have to carve it out of your basement. 


So while it might not have the glitz and glamor of some Bug Rooms, it certainly makes me happy, until we can build a better room. Sometimes there is something to be said for being creative and working with what you have as cheaply as you possibly can.

UPDATE: Since posting these pictures of my bug room/library we have hired a contractor and remodeled the basement. I now have an office/library. I also have a separate insect/reptile room attached to the main room. 
It is nice to have such a beautiful room to do my research, to read, and to display my collections and treasures.
(This buffet was purchased for $2.00 at a local consignment auction. I traded some used furniture I didn't want any longer to a woman who refinished it for me.  I think it turned out beautifully. The bird cabinet on the left was purchased many years ago at a garage sale)

(This mint green cabinet was originally a gun cabinet that my late brother Marty made in high school shop class. After he passed away my mother gave it to me. It was in terrible shape so I repainted it and stenciled it. It now houses an antique teacup collection that belonged to my great-grandmother as well as a few other treasures from friends and family.)

(My office and library area. The black cabinet was a thrift store find and houses a ton of books. The shelf behind the desk is full of insect field guides. The desk was another bargain find. It came from the same consignment auction as the buffet and was purchased for $1.50. The same woman who refinished the buffet refinished the desk for $75. It turned out wonderful.)
(Another view of the office area.)

This wall of shelves is devoted to my husbands collection of crocks, Since the taking of this picture back last summer, it is now completely full. The little desk on the right is another auction find for $5.00. The sewing rocker is a family heirloom that dates back 160 years ago. It belonged to my great-great grandma.
This is my cozy comfy chair that is great for snuggling into and reading a good book)

Friday, January 1, 2010

Predator becomes the Prey

Chinese Praying Mantids are one of the most recognized of all the summer insects. Being very large at almost 5 inches in length, they are impossible to mistake for any other species of mantid in Missouri. I compare them to the famed dinosaur isn't a far stretch if you think about it. The way they hold their legs out in front of them in that prayer-like fashion is very reminiscent of the famed dinosaur. They are large meat eaters, just like T-Rex. They are stealthy and very little gets past them. These are fun insects to keep as pets, being easy to rear and requiring very little in the way of care makes them a sure fit to anyone who is fascinated with insects. Sometimes though the predator becomes the prey, in the case of this unfortunate egg case (ootheca) discovered by an enterprising downy woodpecker. This little woodpecker hammered away completely unaware of my presence for several minutes.


I wish my pictures were a bit more clear, but I am still fortunate to have came across such a fascinating find as this. Little bits and pieces of this ootheca were flying like saw dust from a chainsaw as he worked fastidiously  at getting to those eggs hidden away inside that case.  He hung around for 3 minutes or so, just long enough for me to get the right lens on the camera and snap off a few pictures. This is natural pest control at its finest. Even though praying mantids are great at insect control, this particular variety have all but pushed out our native species. So if a few are sacrificed to a hungry winter bird, I say "more power to you little bird".

Pictured to the right is an image of a Chinese Mantid Egg Case (ootheca). If you would like to find one, now is a good time when the leaves are off the trees and shrubs. They are all but impossible to find when the foliage is present. Last spring I had well over 20 of these cases in my yard. This year I only have found around a half dozen or so. Below is one of the big eyed beauties that showed up in our gardens this past season. I am curious to see what this extremely harsh winter weather we are experiencing this year will do to the insect populations.