As the season quickly faded from fall to winter last year, my family had an unexpected visitor. She came to our window one afternoon and my son was overjoyed to run out with his dad and scoop her up into a clear container. It was a Praying Mantis, if you are wondering, and since I am a sucker for any opportunity for learning, I welcomed this predatory insect into my home for study.
I actually wasn’t that keen about her but I went online and found as many print outs as I could on the anatomy of the Praying Mantis and pulled out all the books that I have on insects so that my children and I could do a mini project on the topic. Mini projects are something that I have always done with my children and it has really opened up a world of possibilities for them. They enjoy the projects and they love researching new topics. So far my 6 year old has done projects on several types of insects, dinosaurs, space, Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, Egypt, and Volcanoes to name only a few. My youngest son, who is 3, has embarked on a different type of learning and our main focus, besides the insect projects, is the world of space, or more specifically, The Milky Way.
Taking the time to do these little projects, or massive projects as the case has proved many times, helps build a love of learning and an interest in Science since many of our topics revolve around science topics. The Praying Mantis was just another way to learn and I was happy to share my home with her for a few weeks.
She was overjoyed with the accommodations as well and ate up all the crickets that we threw in for her (we have a bearded dragon so there was no shortage in food for the Praying Mantis, or Manni as we called her). As the days progressed, our dear Manni started looking slightly fatter. I wondered if we had been feeding her too much and she was either so full or so accustomed to us that she would sit in our hands, without moving or biting, and just relax. The kids learned a lot from her and one of them was the fact that Manni wasn’t a boy and would in fact be a mother in a few short months.
I found in her little terrarium one morning, a very disgusting pod. At first I wasn’t sure what it was, especially since Manni sat alive and well in the corner of the but after a little research, I realized that what I was looking at was the ootheca, or egg case. My kids were overjoyed and after a few debates, it was agreed that we would keep the ootheca for the winter and hopefully hatch out a few hundred Praying Mantis nymphs in the spring (they’ll be released when they hatch by the way).
Once I was in charge of hatching, I had to do a bit more research, a word of warning about mini projects: parents are always the one to do the most work. In February, I placed the ootheca outside so the eggs have a winter, from the research I gathered, this is an important stage in the development of the nymphs. They are finally back in the house as of this week and hopefully, I have done everything right so that Manni’s baby’s will arrive.
Learning about the life-cycle of an insect species is a wonderful opportunity for all children and I would strongly recommend doing something similar with your children. There are many places out there where you can purchase butterfly hatching kits. Your children, with adult supervision of course, can grow the plants necessary for your caterpillars to grow, hatch the eggs, watch the caterpillars and finally see the metamorphosis to butterfly. It is a wonderful experience and the learning is endless. Make sure that if you choose to raise butterflies to only choose a species that is native to your area.
Of course, I’m not going to have beautiful butterflies to release in a few weeks and I won’t get the chance to see a fuzzy caterpillar eat up the plants I have lovingly tended. I also won’t get to see the chrysalis hanging off the branches of my plants but my children will have the chance to see how Praying Mantis nymphs are hatched. They also get a small lesson on how to cultivate fruit flies for feeding the two praying mantis that I told them we could keep for a few days. So there will be learning involved, just not the pretty kind.
So over the next few weeks, I hope to share one of my project experiences with you but for today, I will leave you with a picture of the ootheca. According to the research I have done, there are probably several hundred nymphs in there.