These strange clusters on Christmas trees hatch hundreds of insects

Gifts are great, but the last thing you need under your tree on Christmas morning are hundreds of baby praying mantises.

Families across the country have shared their stories of praying mantis egg sacs attached to their Christmas trees, warning others to comb through all the branches to avoid a spooky surprise.

“Christmas tree came with another praying mantis nest…. third time,” a family in Ohio said on Facebook. “Fortunately, we know to look for them before they come out again in the house.”

Praying mantis egg sacs are called ootheca and look like brown foam insulation, according to the University of Illinois. The sacs can often be found on twigs, stems or rocks – making Christmas trees a perfect host.

“I knew immediately what it was. It was the size of a walnut. Soooo glad I found it now. I don’t need 200 or 300 baby mantises in my house,” said a woman from Cincinnati. “I cut the branch off the tree (without) damaging the ootheca and put it in the backyard.”

One family told WBRC they would hang onto a fake tree for years after finding hatched baby praying mantises in the branches.

This is about praying mantis babies – the more you look, the more you see.

“I first saw one on our baseboard in our kitchen and then another on our dog treat container and then started looking around,” Rebecca Howard told WBRC. “I was immediately shocked when I saw five on our ceiling above the tree, then probably fifteen on just one curtain panel!”

The eggs usually hatch in the spring, but the warmth of people’s homes can jump-start the process and lead to hundreds of praying mantises on your tree, Cleveland Museum of Natural History Science Curator Gavin J. Svenson told WOIO in an interview in 2017.

“Putting the egg carton out quickly is critical if you want them to survive normally to hatch in the spring,” Svenson told WOIO. “The egg cartons are prone to rot from too much moisture, so placing them on the ground or on a surface will not work for them. Securing the case to an elevated branch works best.

Alison Cutler is a National Real Time Reporter for the Southeast at McClatchy. She graduated from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University and previously worked for The News Leader in Staunton, VA, a branch of USAToday.

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