Got a live Christmas tree this year? Check it twice.
Is your Christmas tree up yet? When you bring in the fresh needles and the lovely scent, you might be bringing a little bit more of Mother Nature than you bargained for.
"I've been finding a lot more in the concolor ones this year," said Nicolas Karim, toting a Christmas tree across the lot he's managing in Grandin Village.
For 14 years, Karim has been offering his customers what likely amounts to a huge favor.
"They're light brown," he said. "...And I see them, they're coming off because they'll hatch in the house, ain't no way that I'll have any in there."
Karim is talking about a small, brown, crunchy mass attached to the tree trunk that is not made of tree at all.
This mass is actually a praying mantis egg sack, or ootheca, if we're being scientific.
"A lot of the kids, boy, their parents fret, they tell them here's a cocoon of spiders, boy they jump back!" said Karim.
WDBJ7 checked with entomologists Dr. Mike Wise at Roanoke College and James Mason at Virginia Tech, who confirmed this. They say in the summer, praying mantis mammals lay their eggs, at least a hundred per sack, on somewhere sturdy for the winter.
When it warms up in late spring, they hatch! Or perhaps if you're harboring them, your house could be the perfect incubator.
"And one time she said that her cat went crazy!" Karim said of one woman who didn't catch her ootheca in time. "Where the praying mantis was in the house!"
Fortunately, the praying mantis young are harmless and, say the entomologists, an asset for vegetable gardeners.
Wise said the parent mantis secretes the eggs in a liquid that hardens, much like caulking around a door frame. In the cold, the eggs remain dormant until they're ready to hatch. The praying mantis delivers one generation per summer. They take a few months to grow to full size, and, after mating, the female mantis famously decapitates her partner.
The ootheca can also be found online and in some stores for sale. Wise, Mason and Karim recommend putting them somewhere nearby such as a garden, as the babies will eat other insects that come for your budding vegetables.
According to Wise, the praying mantis' closest relative is a cockroach. But, he said, overall insect populations are decreasing globally. This can be attributed to chemical pesticides and destruction of habitat. So, rather than doing away with them, he recommends letting them live out their lifespan outdoors.
So this year, prep your Christmas tree - and check it twice.