Monday, January 25, 2010

The Praying Mantis - Number One in My Books

The praying mantis is one of the most fascinating creatures I've ever had the pleasure of encountering and handling. Their looks are alien, yet they can also be sleek and graceful. On top of all that, with their five eyes (2 compound and 3 simple), spiky forearms and ability to camouflage themselves in their environment - they make quite the formidable predator. Yet harmless to man. My kind of critter!!

I spent a lot of time this past summer trying to find a praying mantis, but found nary a one. Yes, I really do go searching for insects. I think I'll have to do more investigating as to where the best places to find these fascinating insects are. So far, since being in Barrie, I have only had the pleasure of finding 3 praying mantises. This summer will be my 5th summer here....that's not a very good success ratio! I am optimistic that this Spring and Summer will make up for the praying mantis shortfall I'm experiencing!! If at first you don't succeed, try, try, try, try again... right??!!!

Juicy Tidbits:

* Praying mantises are predatory insects that are superior hunting machines. They hunt not only insects, but also snakes, lizards, birds, frogs... and even rodents.

* They are masters of camouflage (which explains why they are so hard for me to find!)

* Praying mantises can fly

* They are carnivores, and the female is known for cannibalizing the male mantis during or immediately after mating.

* Birds and bats are two common predators of the praying mantis.

* The egg case of the praying mantis is called an ootheca.

I believe the only type of praying mantis I've found is the European Mantid (Mantis religiosa). These can be easily identified by a large black spot located on the inside of its forelegs.
Want to know more? Check out some of these websites....

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Cicadas: One of my favourite insects....

Pronounced "si-Kay-duh", these are one of my top three insects for sure. Cicadas are heard more often than they are seen. At least that's been my experience. These insects (the males actually) make a loud pitched "buzzsaw" noise from high in the treetops. This is their mating call. I remember hearing these noises as a child and thinking that that was the noise the power made as it travelled through the power lines.

My first visual introduction to these creatures occured only 7 years ago while at a friend's cottage in Pictou County, Nova Scotia. Here we found one drying it's wings on the tire of our car after molting. It was the most amazing insect I'd ever seen. I couldn't believe how big it was, how long its wings were, and loved its big bulging eyes. I had to know more... There are so many incredible things about this insect, so I'll try not to bore you. Here are some Juicy Tidbits that you may enjoy...

* Most cicadas have a lifecycle of about 2 - 5 years, but others, specifically the North American genus, Magicicada, has a lifecycle of 13 to 17 years.

* Cicadas live most of their life underground as a nymph. When ready, it tunnels to the surface, and molts on nearby plants or trees, emerging as a winged adult. The empty skins are left behind (these are called exuvia).

* There are 166 species of cicada throughout Canada and the United States.

* The Magicicada species in southern U.S.A. has a lifecycle of 13 years, but a 17 year lifecycle in northern states of the eastern U.S. These cicadas are also known to have a mass emergence, with upwards of 1.5 million cicadas emerging per acre!!

* Females can lay over 600 eggs.

* Apparently, cicadas can make a fine meal, and in some countries are considered a delicacy.

In February of 2009, my husband and I went to Thailand with a group of friends. When we arrived at our villa in Phuket, I was astounded at what I heard. The entire jungle was singing with cicadas. It was almost deafening. And then all of a sudden, it would end. I tried to write down the cycles of the cicada song - trying to see if they always started or stopped at a certain time of day, but a pattern never really stuck out. I didn't really matter though... it still sounded amazing. Now if only I could see one!! Fortunate for me, our villa had an amazing live-in cook/maid named Sarn. Not only did she clean up after us and make us amazing meals, but she even climbed a tree one day while we were at the beach, and caught me a cicada. How amazing! I still feel bad that I didn't give her some extra money for that... something I kept meaning to do, but never got around to it. I guess I'll have to pay it forward instead.