Hatch Your Own Praying Mantises
No one knows better than kids that nature is amazing. Thrill your child with the wonder and science of life as you guide her through creating a habitat in which she can hatch her very own praying mantises. Praying mantises hatch in the spring, so this is a great way to enjoy the outdoors while spending some quality time with your child.
In the first part of this activity, she'll engage in the foundational steps of the scientific process: observation and prediction. In the second part, she'll learn first-hand what the praying mantis needs to hatch, survive, and grow. She'll find that constucting the mantis habitat is rewarding work, which can yield up to 200 baby mantises!
Introduction to Baby Mantises
What You Need:
- Mantis egg case (you can order one from a biological supply company)
- Photo of a mantis laying eggs (you can find one easily on the internet)
What You Do:
- Order the mantis egg case from a biological company.
- With great drama, tell a story about the mother mantis laying her eggs.
Once upon a time, the mother mantis got ready to lay her eggs. She squeezed some foam out of her body onto a branch. Then she squeezed her eggs out of her body and into the foam. The foam got hard and the eggs were safe inside. Whether it rained or snowed, the eggs stayed dry inside the foam while the baby mantises grew and got ready to hatch.
- Find a photograph of a mantis laying eggs to use as a prop.
- Show the mantis’ egg case and ask your child to touch it with just one finger. (Once the egg case has hatched, the children can handle it more thoroughly and even cut it open.)
- Ask your child:
- When do you think the insects will hatch?
- What will the hatchlings look like?
- How many babies will there be?
- Have your child draw a picture of what the baby mantises might look like. If she asks where the mother mantis is during this time, tell her that many animal babies do not need to be taken care of by a parent when they hatch because are ready to take care of themselves.
Now, your child is ready to prepare a home for the baby mantises! Follow the steps below to turn this science lesson into an unforgettable experience.
Making the Mantis Habitat
What You Need:
- Mantis egg case
- Large plastic container
- Craft foam
- Cardboard, if necessary
- Branch(es) to hold the egg case
- Food source for mantis
What You Do:
- Have your child help you select a large plastic container such as a two-liter soda bottle, a pretzel tub, or an aquarium.
- If your container does not have a close-fitting lid, fashion a lid out of a piece of cardboard.
- Cut a small access hole in the side of the container or in the cardboard lid.
- Tie the egg-case to a branch and let your child put it in the habitat. She can also add more branches if she'd like.
- Have your child help you fill the access hole with craft foam. The foam will allow air to get in without letting the little mantises out.
- Ask your child to monitor the container for hatching “babies,” which may take as long as three weeks.
- If your child would like to keep the mantises for a few weeks after they hatch, make sure you are ready with a food source such as fruit flies. You can get these at a pet store or biological supply company.
- Ask your child:
- What do these baby mantises look like?
- Do you think they will make chrysalis and metamorphose into another shape or just stay the same shape and get bigger? (If the children have observed the growth and change of a caterpillar into a butterfly, review the “growing up” of a butterfly. It started as a caterpillar; a different shape when it hatched from its egg than the adult butterfly that laid the egg. The mantises will stay the same shape as they grow and molt their skin.)
- What do their mouths and mouth parts look like?
- What do they eat? (These mantises eat other insects.)
- What might eat the mantis? (Birds.)
- When the mantises have hatched, your child will either want to set them free or keep them around for a few weeks.
- If she'd like to set them free, she can take them outside and open the container. Leave the container where it is until all of the mantises have gone.
- If she'd like to keep them for a couple of weeks, remind her that they will need food and water. Together, you can supply mantises with fruit flies and occasionally mist the inside of the habitat to add a bit of moisture. You'll want to free the mantises eventually, though, as they do not fare well in close proximity to one another.
Remind your child that lives begin all around us every day, but it's not every day that she gets to help! Congratulate her on a job well done, and don't be surprised when she wants to make a habitat for the next critter she finds utterly fascinating.
For More Great Information On Insects, Read:
- Backyard Hunter: The Praying Mantis by Bianca Lavies
- Bugs! Bugs! Bugs! by Bob Barner
- Creepy Crawlies and the Scientific Method: More Than 100 Hands-on Science Experiments for Children by Sally Kneidel
- How to Hide a Butterfly and Other Insects by Ruth Heller
- Mealworms: Raise Them, Watch Them, See Them Change by Adrienne Mason
- Pet Bugs: A Kid’s Guide to Catching and Keeping Touchable Insects by Sally Stenhouse Kneidel