Fireplace bounty

As the temperature is predicted to plunge to about 14ºF (-9ºC) tonight -- which is quite a bit below the normal of 28ºF (-2ºC) -- I decided it would be a good night to fire up the wood stove. We had a high-efficiency wood-burning stove "insert" installed in our fireplace a few years back, and it's wonderful for cold evenings and mornings. I was looking forward to the first fire of the year, so out to the woodpile I went (thank you full moon!), carried in a couple buckets of wood, and opened the stove door for the first time for at least six months.

Not only was it full of ashes (I'm never bothered about cleaning it out in the spring), but there were a few surprises in there too.


Immediately a dead moth fell out onto the ash tray:

Not surprising at all. Next, I noticed several dead cicadas:

A little more surprising, but not too much so because if you remember this was the year for the 13-year periodic cicadas in St. Louis, and there were multitudes of them earlier this year.

What I saw next was hard to believe though:

A mantis! A Carolina mantis to be exact -- the "same" mantis that I spent the last month of fall hunting for in my garden. I searched everywhere I could think of out there and never even saw one, and here one was practically coming into the house!

Then I did a double-take, as I saw...

Another mantis! Do I need to point out that all of the insects found in the stove were long-dead? This one died in a very life-like pose though -- not the folded legs-in-the-air you expect to see on a deceased bug (see cicada photo above).

Investigating the firebox a bit more, my flashlight beam revealed that at least one of these two female mantises was not idle before she died:

Yes, it is an egg case! -- the ultimate goal in my futile quest for a live mantis earlier. I wanted at least one egg case that I could keep in a jar in the refrigerator over the winter, then hatch the baby mantises in the spring -- it's one of my favorite late spring activities. Yahoo!

Although the egg cases stick pretty well, they're not too difficult to remove intact -- they're quite sturdy and will separate from the brick surface before they are damaged. I pulled this one down and popped it into a jar in the back of the fridge.

Ready to be put into a jar in the refrigerator for the winter.

This summer I saw a grand total of one mantis all year -- and that was only briefly as it landed on a plant near me then quickly flew away again. To think that I only needed to look into the stove a bit earlier to see two of them...

After thinking about it for a while, I remember seeing an empty mantis egg case on the chimney while I was up there inspecting it with the masons a couple months ago. In previous years I've noticed that some mantis babies end up staying very close to where they were hatched, all summer long. I'm guessing these did too, but then flew or climbed down the chimney while it was in the process of being rebuilt.

I feel a bit sorry for them, but at least their offspring will be safe and distributed throughout my garden next year.

She's not dead -- she's pining!

So the evening's fire was delayed for almost an hour as I took photos and carefully looked for any other surprises, but it was so worth it. I never expected anything like this tonight!


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Rock rose  – (December 10, 2011 at 7:47 AM)  

Quite amazing. I only saw one mantis this summer but have found several egg cases, all in the wrong places. I haven't tried doing what you have done and putting them in the fridge. Glad you have a sharp eye.

scottweberpdx  – (December 10, 2011 at 10:00 AM)  

So glad you looked before starting the fire! I was a little bummed that I didn't see any mantis at all this summer, granted, they are pretty good little hiders. Good luck with your mantis eggs :-)

Christine @ the gardening blog  – (December 10, 2011 at 3:57 PM)  

very cool find, I look forward to seeing your 'hatchlings' next year!

Laura Bloomsbury  – (December 11, 2011 at 6:55 AM)  

always enjoy your posts and wonderful images but this one is so heartening with hope and new life for the year ahead

Anonymous –   – (December 16, 2011 at 5:44 PM)  

She's pinin' for the fjords!
So, she's a Norwegian mantis. :-) Too funny.

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