Thom Smith | Naturewatch: Search for praying mantis' egg sack before cutting vine


Q: We have had a praying mantis in our yard for at least three weeks that we know about. It had been in our raspberries for a couple of weeks, but we lost track of it. Yesterday, I was about to cut down some trumpet vine that we have decided we no longer want. The mantis was right in front of my face, so I'm happy I saw it and stopped. Now I don't know what to do with that vine. I'm afraid that if I cut it now and burn it in the spring, there will be eggs on it that will be destroyed. I'm willing to leave it for now, if that's the right thing. Do you have any advice? Thank you.

— Kevin, Great Barrington, Mass.

A: The mantis is a predator that feeds on a wide variety of insects including grasshoppers, crickets, even flies, moths and other mantises.

This is the season when females lay their egg sack (ootheca) that contains up to 400 eggs. This egg sack is hard and can survive extreme winter weather, even in The Berkshires. In the mid-spring as temperatures warm, the egg cases crack open and the nymphs escape. So it is wise to, at the least, search for the egg case and move it before destroying its host plant.

And it is true that sometimes females practice cannibalism, killing and eating their mate after mating, or decapitate the male during mating.

Q: We have lived in our condo for 18 years. For the past two years, we have been hearing the woodpeckers making holes in our wooden slated chimney; we're on an end unit. A couple of other end units have also been affected.

The condo association assumed they were after bugs and we have been sprayed three times so far this year, and still, the colorful birds love us. We must have 20 holes this year. Any advice would be appreciated.

— Jan, Pittsfield, Mass.

A: This is a little out of my area, but I can suggest hanging streamers of Mylar to discourage the birds. Fine wires may also be hung dangling down from top of the chimney, and may be less noticeable.

Q: This past week, I had two interesting sightings right here on Main Street in Great Barrington:

• I was driving over the bridge near the Great Barrington hedge and saw a large bird with what I thought was a rope caught in its claws. But realized it was not a rope, but a snake being carried in the bird's talons as it flew down the river into a clump of trees.

All I was able to discern was a flash of white. So, I guess it was either an eagle or an osprey — favoring the former because I'm not sure if there are ospreys so close to the center of town. I know that eagles can catch live fish or feast on carrion, but would a snake be part of its diet?

• While walking on Main Street in the pre-dawn hours for my morning walk, something very small scooted in front of me and went into a clump of grass. I've never seen a shrew before, but have seen many pictures. This animal was much smaller than a mouse and very sleek looking.

Might it have been a shrew right here in the middle of town?

— Michael, Great Barrington

A: It could have been either considering the Housatonic runs through the town. Of course, the osprey would be more of an oddity having a snake in its possession. It is known to occasionally take one if the opportunity presents itself, especially if starving or feeding its young, which is not the case here.

The bald eagle is one of those birds that will eat what is available, be it a snake, frog, small mammal — including squirrel and sometimes even muskrat, and a variety of birds, including waterfowl. Its diet is primarily fish it or something else catches (think osprey). The eagle is also a scavenger, often feeding on deer found dead on a frozen lake, for instance. They scavenge many meals at garbage dumps and, as mentioned, torment birds like the osprey to drop its fish.

I have always wanted to watch as an eagle harasses an osprey carrying a fish to the point where it actually drops its catch, and have the eagle swoop down and actually catch it. Quite a display of aerial acrobatics, I would imagine.

As for the shrew being seen "in the middle of town," I would say yes. I refer you to last week's Naturewatch column.

Thom Smith welcomes your questions and comments. Email him at or write him care of The Berkshire Eagle, 75 S. Church St., Pittsfield, MA 01201.


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