Nine months and counting

About nine months ago I began to document the growth and development of a baby, and a few days ago this beautiful being completed a journey from her virgin conception to adulthood. She is a praying mantis (Taumantis sp.)

She emerged on February 1st, along with about 150 of her sisters. She never had a father. Her mother, which had come to me as a young nymph herself, never met a male and yet, upon reaching maturity, started laying eggs. By all accounts those eggs should have never hatched – only two species of praying mantids, out of about 2,450 known species worldwide, can develop without males (and only North American Brunneria borealis is exclusively parthenogenetic.) But hatch they did, and for a few weeks they were all doing great. Soon, however, the young nymphs started dropping like flies. In the end only a handful made it to the last, sub-adult stage, and only one completed its final molt on September 30th.

Little is known about sex determination in most praying mantids, but at least in some species the male has only one X chromosome, while in a handful of others he has two X chromosomes and a Y chromosome. The genus Taumantis has never been studied in this respect (or any other respect, for that matter; other than the original taxonomic descriptions, nothing is known about the biology of this genus), but in some related species of the subfamily Mantinae the males are diploid and have a Y chromosome, which makes it extremely likely that all my baby mantids were females; the one who reached the adulthood is one.

I am extremely curious to see if the newly mature female Taumantis lays eggs, and if so, whether they will hatch. In the meantime, here is my baby album.

Praying mantids emerge from the egg case (ootheca) as larva-like pronymphs, and immediately undergo their first molt [Canon 7D,Canon MP-E 65mm, 3 speedlights 580EXII]

The mother Taumantis with one of her newly hatched daughters [Canon 7D,Canon Canon 100mm, 3 speedlights 580EXII]

Second instar; at this point the head is proportionately very large and the abdomen is still missing a few segments [Canon 7D,Canon MP-E 65mm, 3 speedlights 580EXII]

Third instar; the head is getting proportionately smaller and the raptorial front legs are getting bigger [Canon 7D,Canon Canon 100mm, 3 speedlights 580EXII]

Fourth instar; the first traces of wing buds are becoming visible [Canon 7D,Canon Canon 100mm, 3 speedlights 580EXII]

Fifth instar; strangely, the head is getting proportionately big again [Canon 7D,Canon Canon 100mm, 3 speedlights 580EXII]

Sixth instar (sub-adult); the wing buds have clearly visible venation and the front coxae have acquired adult coloration [Canon 7D,Canon Canon 100mm, 3 speedlights 580EXII]

A first generation parthenogenetic female with her last exuvia [Canon 7D,Canon Canon 100mm, 3 speedlights 580EXII]

10 thoughts on “Nine months and counting

  1. I wonder if the variation in proportionial head size is related to instar-specific prey preferences or merely reflects growth constraints – an interesting observation.

    I notice a lot of your “white box” photos use a slightly reflective substrate – what are you using? The faint reflection adds a nice touch compared to normal white box photos.

    • Ted, you might be right about the prey specificity of various instars. I would love to be able to track the development of this species in the wild.
      The background in these photos is a piece of smooth, white plastic. I also like the reflection:)

  2. Shay, your photos are incredible! Combined with Piotr’s series, the mantis development from ootheca to final instar is beautifully documented. We, too, have raised mantises, spending a frantic summer sweep netting the yard just to keep them all fed. We grew rather attached to them, even as their numbers dwindled down to a handful of winged adults.

  3. I like that the 6th instar is subadult–like a teenager who’s just learned to flirt. Def. a coy little pose. SO delightful, of course, the whole series. LOVELY!

  4. Piotr, such a delightful post. I adore these insects and this morning was out and about trying to capture the display of Mantis religiosa that our small cat managed to provoke. One, should not, for all sorts of good philosophical reasons anthropomorphise but they have such character. In that respect, the shots of your nymphs are superb!

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