Temporary pets: the kind that do best in brief captivity, and after a short stint under attention and observation, go back to their lives of free wandering and feeding themselves.
“Greenie” was what the kids named our temporary pet praying mantis a couple of weeks ago. Thrilled to find and catch her in our new backyard, they realized the tiny bug house we have would not be the most comfortable place for Greenie, a fairly small mantis. We cut windows into a smallish cardboard box–those boxes do come in handy–and stretched netting from an old butterfly net across the openings. Then the kids filled the bottom of the box with dirt, a few rocks and plants, and attached some longer sticks diagonally across the box to create a good habitat for the insect. Next they got to work catching other bugs to put into the box–Mantis meals!
On the morning of day three of feeding Greenie, the boys found her wrapped up in a spider’s silk, inside the bug box. The spider must have been introduced to the habitat with some of the plants, and somehow managed to overcome the mantis. The kids did their best to unwind the insect from the web, and carefully placed her in a small pot of succulents to recover. She stayed alive and moved a little, seeming to regain strength as the day went on, but was dead by the next morning. I explained to the boys that the spider probably bit the mantis earlier, and that the venom would likely poison her. They were sad and fascinated all at once.
I suggested that one way to remember Greenie would be to draw a picture of her while she was still alive, so that is just what L did.
In the next two weeks, as we traveled to our favorite states of Colorado and New Mexico, the boys found themselves face to face with many thriving summer bugs, and spent hours catching and examining them. From grasshoppers, to cicadas, to dragonflies, and then some.
Even I took a turn at making a bug portrait, though we’re not sure of the exact name of this particular bug, Grandma calls it a zebra beetle.
The most prized temporary pets of the trip, though, were a number of spadefoot toads that we found in New Mexico. These desert toads can be very tiny, about the size of a nickel, to a few inches across. The boys caught at least six of them over the week, kept them in a bucket habitat and fed them live bugs, then let them go after a couple of days.
We said good-bye, and left these sand-digging toads and insect friends in their high-mountain desert home, but not without regrets. “Maybe if we are lucky,” I told the boys, ” Squeaky and his smaller toad buddies will come find you again next summer, and they will all have grown bigger, just like you.”