Category Archives: Blog

The Visitor: Preying Mantis Edition

Her entrance into my world last week was quite startling.

I was standing near traffic when she flew in and crashed smack dab into the middle of my chest, crashing to the ground. But, oh, what a beautiful creature she is! Judging from her size she is probably a European mantid (Mantis religiosa).  I quickly scooped her up and released her in my Morning Glory vine. She was probably pushed northward by Hurricane Harvey. She stayed a couple days hunting amongst the foliage. Often times, I had some real difficulty finding her; she blends in so well. However, she was very tolerant of my camera in her face. I was able to get a couple good shots. I haven’t been able to find her for awhile though, so she’s probably moved on. Nor have I found an egg mass. I was hoping I’d see more in the yard next year. I am grateful for the privilege of her visit and wish her well on her journey.

About The Preying Mantis

Of the 20 species of mantids that occur in North America, the introduced Chinses Mantis, at a length of as much as four inches, is the largest. They are large, solitary, slow moving creatures. Praying Mantis species are found in many differing habitats. They are generally located in the warmer regions, particularly tropical and subtropical latitudes. Most species live in the tropical rainforest, although others can be found in deserts, grasslands and meadowlands. 

The European mantid species were introduced in the northeast U.S. about 75 years ago as garden predators for pest control. They are very efficient and deadly general predators of most pest insects. They have enormous appetites, eating various aphids, leafhoppers, mosquitoes, mites, caterpillars and other soft-bodied insects when young. Later they will eat larger insects, beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, or any insect within reach. 

Pregnant females have been known to devour mice, scorpions, snakes and lizards. While lizards, snakes and scorpions will often eat small mantids, they often steer clear of the swift spiky forelegs and ruthless fighting tactics of an adult. Frogs are another natural enemy who can kill or be killed, according to relative size. Spiders will gladly devour a young mantis captured in a web, providing the praying mantis is not bigger. Tarntulas and praying mantises eat each other, with the victory meal usually going to whoever is bigger. In Japan, the giant hornet’s toughly armored 2-inch body is topped off with cutting jaws and 1/4-inch long stingers that make it one of the only insects consistently deadly to the praying mantis. Here’s a video of a pretty cool battle between a mantis and a bee:

Care and Behavior of the Preying Mantis

These ferocious-looking animals actually make great pets. Some will even eat raw meat and insects from your fingers. With plenty to eat they usually will not stray far. If handled properly they don’t bite.  They are easy to raise and among the insects most commonly kept as pets.

Their “neck” allows the head to rotate 180 degrees, allowing for a wide visual field. They are the only known insect that can turn its head and look over its shoulder. Mantids are well camouflaged to blend in with their surroundings. They will stand nearly motionless, patiently waiting for the next potential meal to wander by; nothing moving but their head as they track their prey. They assume a “praying” position, folding the legs under their head. They snap up their prey with a lightning movement of their strong forelegs. Measurements of their reflexes show they react more than 2 times quicker than houseflies. They have very bad table manners, dropping much of their meal to the ground where scavengers and decomposers feast on the leftovers.

The male mantid takes great care in approaching the female prior to any sexual activity. He is fully aware that she is just as likely to literally tear off his head and eat him as she is to allow for intercourse. And, if she happens to be hungry, she just might eat him afterward anyway. She will lay groups of 12-400 eggs in a frothy liquid, called ootheca, that turns to a hard protective shell about the size and shape of a cigarette filter glued to tree twigs, plant stems, fences, walls and other objects.  She will die after laying. The eggs remain in the shell over winter. Small mantids emerge in the spring. Often, their first meal is a sibling. 

She will lay groups of 12-400 eggs in a frothy liquid, called ootheca, that turns to a hard protective shell about the size and shape of a cigarette filter glued to tree twigs, plant stems, fences, walls and other objects.  She will die after laying. The eggs remain in the shell over winter. Small mantids emerge in the spring. Often, their first meal is a sibling. 

Mantid ootheca (egg case)

Mantis Symbolism

These traits have lead the mantis to be a symbol of meditation and contemplation. Overwhelmingly, in most cultures, the mantis is a symbol of stillness. In fact, in China, the mantis has long been honored for her mindful movements. Usually, she will show up in our lives when we become driven by chaotically busy activity to the point that we no longer hear the still small voice within. The mantis comes to us when we need peace, quiet and calm in our lives. An appearance from the mantis is a message to be still, go within, meditate, get quite and reach a place of calm.

It may also be a sign for you to be more mindful of the choices you are making and confirm that these choices are congruent. Consider the overwhelming evidence that backs the mantis up as being a docile, graceful, peaceful creature…and yet recognize her propensity for deep destruction. Mantis symbolism includes both serenity and severity. So whether as a mode of self-protection or protecting our interests – let the mantis make it very clear – we are capable of extraordinary actions to guard what we hold dear. This is a message to us to contemplate and be sure our minds and souls all agree together about the choices we are making in our lives.

Praying mantids have an association with many diverse pharmacological and religious beliefs. The Greeks called them “Mantes”, which means prophets. The Chinese write of the mantis as curing anything from impotence to goiter.

Mantis Informational Links

Wikipedia’s Mantis Page

Garden Insects: A Comprehensive Guide to Safe Biological Pest Control

Entomology Dept.,
University of Kentucky: Preying Mantids

Pets On Mom.Me: What Are the Enemies of a Preying Mantis?

 

Medicine Wheels

I have been creating Medicine Wheels for over 30 years. This is my spiritual journey which has taught me both patience and endurance. I wanted to create my own sacred space that I could move anywhere. It was an intuitive subconscious act of creation. I worked for hours to make the first one; it was simple and it took me 3 years to perfect the design. I am still working on making the perfect design. 

Now you may ask, what is a Medicine wheel? There is one right in the United States; the Hopi Medicine Wheel located in Bighorn County, Wyoming. There is also Stonehenge in Amesbury, Salisbury, UK.  These two examples of Medicine Wheels are made from large stones that are placed in a circular design to create a sacred space for meditation, ceremonies and to commune with the creator.  The word Medicine Wheel was first applied to the Big Horn Medicine Wheel in Wyoming. Traditionally a Medicine Wheel is a circle of stone that is positioned to align with the stars, at best guess. There are between 100 and 200 in Canada and the United States.   

In Eastern cultures, the same principle is represented as a mandala which is used by the Buddhist and Hindu religious as a symbol for the universe. The Tibetan Thangka are beautiful mandalas that are painted on cotton or silk. They are symbolized as a circle enclosing a square; within resides a deity. They are used as an aid to meditation. Mandala means circle in Sanskrit. In Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism it is a stylized diagram of the universe based on a circle.

  The  Mandalas have been used throughout history for meditation in all cultures and is also called the wheel of life. It can take the forms of  Yin and Yang or the Aztec calendar. These are just a few of the archetypes that come from the subconscious mind of man. (If you would like to study mandalas there is a wonderful book by Judith Cornell: Mandala, which is still in print).

 But first, start by looking at the beautiful sand painting of the Tibetans and Navajos that are used in healing ceremonies as well as for meditation. Carl G. Jung rediscovered the Mandala in western culture and its use in healing in Psychiatry. In his book, The Secret of the Golden Flower, he called it,” the psychological expression of the totality of the self.”

    It can be used as a therapeutic engine for concentration in which you can project yourself into your own mental world and see your thoughts as they take form. This can change and liberate you from mental distress. Your subconscious sees the world in symbols. M. C. Escher and Buckminster Fuller make extensive use of the Mandala art form. They used nature as a template and the Fibonacci Sequence as a guide which can generate an infinite variety of design forms; the building blocks of life. In the book Black Elk Speaks  by John G. Neihardt in 1932, Black Elk said,                        

                Image result for Native American quotes about circles

                    

          As I have stated previously, the form of the circle has a centering effect on the mind. Mix this with art and you have a powerful meditation medium that takes the outward flowing of energies and turns them into a centering vortex of positive power. Painting, sculpturing and other forms of art are just a few ways to help you cope with stress in your life.  It can create new neural pathways and connections in your brain and distract you from thinking about yourself.  When I create art my hands are moved by a vision emanating from within myself.  

  C.G. Jung stated that: “For at least thirteen years I have kept quiet about the results of these methods in order to avoid any suggestions. I wanted to assure myself that these …Mandala… really are produced spontaneously and were not suggested to the patient by my own fantasy. I was then able to convince myself, through my own studies that Mandalas were drawn, painted, carved in stone and built at all times and in all parts of the world long before my patients discovered them. I have also seen to my satisfaction that Mandalas are dreamt and drawn by patients who were being treated by psychotherapists whom I had not trained. I view this as important and significant of the Mandala symbol, special precautions seemed to be necessary, seeing that this motif is one of the best examples of the universal operation of an archetype.”

But this archetype is spread throughout nature. The Pufferfish makes a beautiful symmetrical pattern. To me, this is amazing and beautiful. And it is is all for the ladies.         

 

 

All life starts out as a circle, the closely packed cells that multiply and grow into a living being, plants, and galaxies. Math is the language of God and the Fibonacci Sequence is a pattern to manifest the beauty of nature.  

For humans, the Mandala is an instrument for transcending the world of visually perceived phenomena. By first centering them and helping the mind to break reality into 3 main forms: center, symmetry, and cardinal points. The center of the eye is the pupil, cut an apple in half it is a mirror reflexion of itself and the cardinal points are north, south, east, and west.

 There are some wonderful coloring books with Mandalas out there for you to use. Or you can make your own, using a plate or saucer that you can trace around. Some pencils, ruler, templates and you can draw your own. 

I feel that Medicine wheels and Mandalas are a roadmap for my life. They are a gift of the universe and show the relationship that we have with the divine.   

 

Can we change with the weather?

I am sitting here on the last day of February, in 50 degree temperatures, looking at the activity around my bird feeder.

My mind turns to the changes occurring in the weather and their effects on wild plant and animal populations. Mind you, as an environmentalist and biologist, I have been seeing these changes slowly accumulating for the last three decades. Long before the debate over whether climate change was “a thing”, (it was known as global warming then), I was already observing, collecting data and analyzing the effects on the landscape. The shifts of both plant and animal population ranges were of particular interest.

Today, I note two new migratory bird species dropping by for a visit before they continue on to Canada. They are outside their normal flight pattern and about six weeks early. Many of the usual summer residents have also arrived already; very early indeed. It seems odd to hear their territorial calls, so loud and raucous, at this time of year. I wonder how many new species will begin to show up in the years to come, and how many will we lose. The mammals are out and about, too; the rabbits and squirrels still very plump with unused winter fat reserves. They really haven’t had a lot of severe cold to deal with for the last few years.

 

Having grown up in the mixed hardwood forests of the American Midwest, I have a particular affinity for the ecosystem. I derive much comfort and enjoyment while in the woods. Lately, I do worry for my beloved trees. I have repeatedly witnessed events that have never occurred before in my memory. For the past three years, several of my trees have produced buds in late December to early January, just to lose them during the next cold snap. Some of these trees seem to then have a hard time starting up again later in the spring, probably due to the depletion of their energy reserves. I expect that some of them will die off. My wooded childhood comfort zone is changing and that saddens me. However, I am excited to see what new species will come in to replace them; what will my new comfort zone look like?

 

I think most informed people have finally accepted that climate change is truly “a thing”. However, there is still the debate as to whether humans caused it and whether we can “fix” it. Personally, I think it is extremely arrogant of our species to think that we have the power to completely change the underlying workings of the environment. Did we contribute to the acceleration of its occurrence? Probably. Would it have happened to some extent anyway. I think so. Does it make sense for us to point the finger of blame at each other? Not to me.

One thing I learned of in my life among the wild things is the amazing resilience of natural ecosystems. As individual components are removed, new ones repopulate the vacant niches and life moves on just as efficiently and harmoniously as before the perturbation. Will we be wiped out because of all this? Maybe, if we don’t adapt. But, we are very good at that. What we could do is try to foresee the potential upcoming changes and prepare…and enjoy the unfolding saga as it happens.

The Beginning of the Saga of Turtle’s Anvil

A few years back we decided to go into business together selling our artwork. We both, rather naively had “old-fashioned” ideas on how to accomplish the task.

Saga of Turtle's Anvil

We were both professionally familiar with using a computer at our previous jobs. Deborah was a systems operator at the Board of Trade. Sue was used to collecting and analyzing scientific data. Because of this, we felt we could easily handle the web.

Lo and Behold! Knowing how to use a computer and successfully navigating e-commerce are not the same animal. life is a turtle's sagaWe were totally unprepared for the speed of technology and the changes in what a computer could be used for and how. But, don’t ever believe the old adage, “Old dogs can’t learn new tricks”. For three years we struggled with teaching ourselves about social media and how to build a web-based business. We bought a number of books, many of which we discovered were outdated shortly after they were printed. We studied them, pored over them and struggled with a completely new language that insidiously used familiar words out of the known context. We went from merely knowing that social media exists to amateurishly using it to grow a small business.

Saga of Turtles Caught In A Web of Tech

xckd-comic-fire-wikipediaStill, we were kind of lost on the nuances, protocol and etiquette of the ether world. It is disconcerting to find out that what you thought was merely adding emphasis was actually rudely YELLING, or that what you felt was defending yourself could be perceived as being argumentative. Notwithstanding, we felt we were up to creating our own website. We thought that because we were no longer newbies to social media that building a website would be a snap.

Wrong again! That is when the Universe provided Mary Diamond, our guru of the ethernet. She helps us ensure that the connections are connected, the plug-ins are plugged in, the add-ons are added on, etc. She also provides invaluable insights and tips, translated into plain English, advancing our knowledge (and confidence) and helping to clear the fog.

This website is a work in progress. We wish to share new ideas, the expressions of creativity and we hope to inspire.