Hooray! The crickets we ordered had finally arrived!! Not Hooray! The crickets we ordered had almost all died during transport (thanks to lovely Ohio weather)!! Sadly, out of the 250 we ordered, maybe 100 were still alive. But still, we were excited to let our little children have their first feast. Since these were pinhead crickets (smallest size possible), we really struggled on how to feed our mantids in a way that the crickets would not get lost in the moss of the tank. So we decided to create a “feeding arena” in which we house lots of mantids in a small container and throw in a bunch of crickets to see what happens.
First, we put 5 mantids and 5 crickets in the arena. This worked well and each of the mantids got to eat a cricket. Then we got a little too excited and put approximately 50 mantids from the jars into the container and shook a bunch of crickets into the arena. This proved to be a gigantic mess. The mantids were too concerned with the close proximity of their siblings that they didn’t even notice the crickets, at first. It took several minutes before they calmed down enough for one to get a cricket. Eventually we decided this wasn’t a very good idea and repackaged the mantids into their jars.
To our surprise, the mantids were actually very skilled at locating the tiny crickets in their enclosures even with the moss. So we decided to abandon our feeding arena and shook some crickets directly into the tank and jars every few days instead.
When preparing for our praying mantises we knew that we would have to give them a steady supply of live insects in order for them to live. This is why as soon as they hatched, we ordered 250 pinhead crickets. However, the crickets were late and we were concerned about our freshly hatched babies.
As an act of desperation, we decided to put some raw ground beef on a few of the sticks in the enclosure and to our delight they loved it!! The praying mantises instantly flocked to the raw meat and began gorging themselves. While the mantids did eat this, it’s important to note that they can not live healthily on a diet of only raw meat. Praying mantises require live insects’ chitin in order to properly grow their own exoskeleton.
In an attempt to find other ways to gather food, we turned on our porch light and waited for any bugs to wander by. An unlucky moth was caught and put into the tank. Within a few minutes one of our skilled babies had already snatched it! The joy a mother feels when her child first sucks the life out another being is indescribable. Knowing that our children were no longer hungry put us at ease as we waited for our pinhead crickets to arrive.
While we were watching our children explore their new home, in front of our very eyes a dark bulbous body crawled out of a hole from one of the tree branches we had collected from outside. Terrified that this spider might be a black widow, we devised a plan to murder the intruder, now nicknamed Big Mama. After a grueling 45 minutes of spraying Big Mama with water and nudging her out of her hole with a twig, she was finally terminated by a quick dagger to her body. We then noticed that she lacked the characteristic red hourglass of a black widow. A quick google search found that she was actually an interestingly named False Black Widow. The trusty twig used to coax Big Mama out of her lair was left in the hole to warn any other spiders or creepy crawlies that may be lurking in our tank that we mean business. Luckily, our children were now safe from Big Mama and could continue to enjoy their new world.
Moral of the story: If you are making a natural tank make sure no unwanted creatures are in the twigs and moss you gather from outside. You may even want to boil them first to ensure this does not happen.
So how did two 21 year old Ohio State students obtain this magical egg sac, you ask? The sac was found the beginning of March during an ecology lab on a field on campus. We were able to store the sac in the fridge for a couple weeks to prevent early hatching. We then gathered moss, twigs and rocks from a local stream to set up a 10 gallon tank. An inch of Exo Terra substrate was first placed, then moss and lastly small branches and twigs for climbing.
On March 20th, we placed the egg sac in the tank knowing it would take a couple weeks before it hatched. On April 2nd, we started putting a light over the tank during day. The morning of April 5th, we noticed the mantids hanging from the egg sac, shown in the header picture. We estimate 100-150 nymphs were hatched. We then ordered some pinhead crickets online for their first food.
Later in the day, we discovered that a good amount had escaped from a small hole in the lid, even with it taped down. We wrangled these escapees (approx 50), and portioned them into 7 mason jars with damp paper towels and a couple twigs. We covered the jars and replaced the tank lid with saran wrap, making sure there were enough holes for sufficient air flow without allowing them to escape. We made sure to spritz both the tank and the jars every few days to keep humidity up, then awaited our pinhead crickets.