Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Making Friends with Carnivores

Praying mantis, free

My two younger children are born naturalists. They greet each bug, each flower, each bird, and each weed with a spirit of fascination and wonder. They eagerly observe and study the world around them.

But they are also children. Which means it is not enough to observe the praying mantis we found in the bushes by the hose -- they want to make him their pet. We often have these temporary additions to the menagerie, but I try to make sure that after a few days, their new friend gets released back into the wild. In the meantime, my hard-and-fast rule is you may not keep anything unless you are able to feed it the right food. So once we have a new friend in the bug habitat, off we troop to the kitchen computer to find out what it is and what it eats.

"Okay, guys, it says here that praying mantises are carnivorous. That means they eat other bugs. The really big ones even eat frogs, lizards, birds, and small rodents. This one's small, so he'll eat smaller insects."

There's a pause as this sinks in. "So... we'll have to catch bugs to feed it?"

I'm thinking this will be a dead-end. Bugs are friends, thus they cannot also be lunch for a praying mantis. I'm even thinking she may have some harsh words for her praying mantis "friend," for his heartlessness in eating such adorable creatures as ladybugs.

But no. Off she troops to the garden to find prey. She knows exactly what she can feed her new friend without remorse, the perfect snack for her fastidious friend.

Praying mantis vs. cabbage worm

Cabbage worms. I tell you, kids who garden are nothing if not practical.

Eventually, though, it was hard to catch enough bugs for our voracious little buddy. We decided that the praying mantis himself was surely a much better insect-hunter than we could ever hope to be. So we set him free. In the garden, where he can be a force for good, snacking on aphids and cabbage worms.

But surely not ladybugs.

This post is part of the Moms' 30-Minute Blog Challenge, hosted by Jamie at SteadyMom.

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