Entomologist Chris Helie found the praying mantis egg cases over the winter in a field near her home in the Worcester area and raised them over the summer since they hatched in June. At age seven weeks old, known as nymphs at this stage of development, they were very small praying mantises and would stay on the same trees, where there is plenty of food. They could not fly away as they don’t develop wings until adulthood.
With permission from the Friends of the Public Garden and Boston Parks and Recreation Department in August, Chris and her husband Norm Helie, the Friends of the Public Garden consulting arborist, released the nymphs onto selected trees. They released a total of 14 on trees in the Public Garden, the Boston Common and the Commonwealth Avenue Mall.
The praying mantis is a beneficial insect, a predator that will eat other bugs that are attacking the trees. According to Chris, the praying mantis uses an “ambush” hunting strategy. In this climate zone, the mantises do not survive the winter but when they mate will produce egg cases that will survive. She said “The praying mantis is a generalist feeder, which means it will feed on any insect. However, the pest insects are usually more numerous simply because they have great reproduction capacity and a head start by the time natural action is taken. The parks are already out of balance in terms of beneficial insects versus pests. Our mantises were put on trees where they will have an abundance of food, especially aphids, spider mite, and leafhoppers, and it is very likely that they will stay there until they die after the first frost.”
So how did a tweet become a TED talk? First there was Chris’s original tweet about the praying mantises from the first week in August, then several retweets by the Friends, followed by a call from reporter Steve Annear of the Globe who saw the tweet on the Friends thread. He wrote a Boston Globe article that was read by someone on the TEDxNatick board and Chris got a call asking if she was interested in auditioning to give a TED talk. The TEDxNatick board is always looking for “stories that inspire”, and Chris’s praying mantis story resonated with them. The rest, as they say, is history. Chris made it through the original five-minute audition as well as a second audition, and now she is involved in full-on preparation with her coach for a nine-minute TED talk.
Chris will be one of eleven other people giving TED talks about stories that inspire at TEDxNatick, on January 20, 2018.