The Great Green Hunter

What looks like an alien, moves with the deliberation and grace of a martial arts master, and consumes vast quantities of the insects in your garden that you wish would graze elsewhere?  A praying mantis.  Just a few weeks ago you may have seen this interesting creature in your garden.  Hopefully, you left them alone to do their work.  Praying mantis got their name because of the way they sit with their front legs folded together, as if in prayer.  The name probably should have been preying mantis, because they excel at the hunt.

Mantids are carnivorous predators that feed on many insects in your garden such as beetles, grasshoppers, leafhoppers, aphids and flies.  They are one of the few insects that are fast enough to catch moths on the wing.  Unfortunately, they do not discriminate between pests and beneficial insects and will also eat lacewings and hover flies.  They do not, however, bite gardeners.  All in all, these curious looking insects are a valuable addition to the garden as a natural insect control.

A mantis lives on average 3-9 months and moves from egg to their adult size in a series of molts.  They are born a nymph and so do not have a larval phase like some other insects.  When they emerge from the egg they look like their parents but much smaller, approximately the size of a grain of rice, with a disproportionately large appetite.  The feeding frenzy takes them through a dozen or so molts before reaching adult size.  In late summer they mate, lay their eggs in the fall, and then die with the coming of frost.

The eggs are surrounded by a foam that hardens into a case and can often be found clinging to tree and shrub limbs.  You can also purchase mantid cases to place in your garden.  A single case contains from 50-200 nymphs.

 References 

Backyard Farmers. Buying Praying Mantis Facts. http://www.backyardfarmers.com/store/pg/34-Buying-Praying-Mantis-Facts-Backyard-Farmers.html.

Cranshaw, W. 2004. Garden Insects of North America: The Ultimate Guide to Backyard Bugs. Princeton University Press: Princeton, NJ.

Gilmer, M. Control Pests with Praying Mantis. http://www.hgtv.com/landsaping/control-pests-with-praying-mantix/index.html.

Hamir, A. Using the Praying Mantis in Your Garden.  http://www.gardenguides.com/840-using-praying-mantis-garden-garden-pest-tip.html.

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