A friend of mine is home-schooling her daughters and asked if I had any ideas for their insect projects. Of course, I thought there must be something suitable right here at Rincon Vitova. So I asked Ron, here at the Bugfarm, what insects are most often used in a classroom situation? He immediately suggested the use of Lacewing larvae or Preying Mantis eggs—both of which are readily available at RVI.
I could see that both of those would be good to use, because, for one, they’re not microscopic in size, and, two, they’re almost mascot-like in the field of bio-control, i.e., both the Lacewing and Mantis adults are easily recognizable by children and adults, so much so that hosting these insects takes on the feel of raising a small pet. At least that’s how it felt for me, when I did a bit of a pre-test project: I chose to house a few Mantis eggs for a while at the RVI office before sending anything off to the home-schoolers.
Now, Mantises eat both beneficials and pests, so they are often sold more for educational value than strict bio-control. So, the Lacewing larvae might have made a better choice. Known as the Aphid Lion, Lacewing larvae are described as little alligators, consuming up to 400 aphids or 11,200 spider mites per individual as well as a variety of other pests, e.g., thrips, whitefly, and moths. So they would have been a good choice, especially for release into a garden. Still, I felt something calming about the thought of releasing the little insect that strikes a prophet’s pose, so I chose the Mantis.
I simply placed a couple of the Mantis eggs in a terrarium, and each week I eagerly anticipated the arrival of the little Mantes or Mantises. I anticipated about a month wait and put a little moisture and plant debris in the terrarium at week four. And, in just over a month, there they were. Each of the Mantis eggs contains 50 -100+ Mantes, so there wasn’t much time to leave the little brood of hatchlings in the terrarium following their emergence. I thought there would be some juvenile stage and an outer transformation into their classically esoteric adult pose, but, there, posed at the tip of my finger before releasing, was a young and fragile baby Mantis, a tiny image of their adult self. We released all of them onto some nearby rose bushes. A note, though, after the initial burst of young Mantises and their release, I’ve kept the eggs for awhile, and there are still a few small groups emerging well into the second month. So, this little insect project keeps on giving opportunities to watch for new emerging life and to care for and release insects over an extended period of time.
At the end of my pre-test project, I am convinced that the Mantises will supply a prophet-able project idea, suitable to both the home-schooled children and their garden. –end June 09 Duke