Flowerland Friend: The Praying Mantis

There is something quite mysterious and other-worldly about the Praying mantis. They almost look like the quintessential alien drawings from Roswell, New Mexico.  They have large oblong eyes, and move in a bizarre fashion from side to side as they try to distinguish you from your background. They hold extremely still, and explode into full movement with no warning. The name “mantis” comes from the Greek word for ‘prophet’ or ‘soothsayer.’ The “praying” refers to the the tightly positioned arms. Praying mantis are also expert camouflage artists, blending silently into the landscape.

It is almost impossible to see this Praying Mantis hiding in Japanese Silver Grass. They adapt to their sorroundings color scheme.
It is almost impossible to see this Praying mantis hiding in Japanese Silver Grass. They can easily blend in to their surroundings color scheme.

Praying mantis (also known as Mantids) are a great predator to have in the garden. Both the European and Chinese Mantids were introduced about 75 years ago to control native pest populations. A Mantid diet consists of crickets, beetles, grasshoppers, spiders and in South America, where they can reach up to 12 in, even Hummingbirds (Sorry Sunshine). Mantids hunt with their  compound eyes, and are thought to be able to see movement  up to 60′ away. They have a free-turning head that has 300 different degrees of movement, making it the only insect that can look over its shoulder. They are also the only insect that can turn their body 180 degrees in one full movement.

Large compound eyes on the mantid let them detect movement up to 60' away.
Large compound eyes of the Mantid let them detect movement up to 60' away. Photo courtesy of Wiki.Â

Mantids also have ultra-sound ears on their metathoraxes. Some species have hollow chambers within their bodies. It has recently been discovered that these chambers are used to pick up the sonic vibrations of the bat, one of the Mantids worst predators. If the Mantid is in flight, and picks up the vibrations, they will hurl themselves out of harms way.

Mantids are capable of color camoflauge. Note the green eyes, and striping on this mantids head.
Mantids have natural color camoflauge. Note the green eyes, and striping on this Mantids head.

Breeding season for Mantids in Michigan is late summer, into early fall. Females mate with the male, and if in captivity or stressed, begin a cannibalistic ritual. Often, even while still in the act of breeding, the female will begin to devourer the male.  It was once thought that this behavior was standard, but has now been challenged by the scientific community as laboratory bias. Further studies need to be done to determine if this is truly a routine behavior in the wild.

Egg cases, called “ootheca”, and are often layed on the sides of buildings, or other flat surfaces. In other species, they are layed on leaves, tree bark and even the ground. Some species even guard their egg cases for some time.  In late spring, nymphs begin to hatch. This process takes several hours depending on the temperature. Often the nymphs will eat a sibling as a first meal.

The ootheca egg case can hold up to 400 eggs, and depending on the species is layed on a flat surface, plant or ground.
The ootheca egg case can hold up to 400 eggs, and depending on the species is layed on a flat surface, plant or ground.

Praying mantis are an organic way to help control pests in the garden. Their egg cases can be ordered in early spring for placement in the garden. They can also eat beneficial insects as well, so it is best to keep only one or two egg cases per yard.  The young are extremely small when they hatch, so be sure not to put them in an area with heavy traffic.  It is only legal to purchase the native Carolina species, as others have been deemed invasive. At temperatures of 68-78 degrees, it takes about 3-6 weeks to hatch. If you purchase your egg cases in January, be sure to keep them cool. You can keep them in your garage, or in the refrigerator until the time is right.

Next time you are out in the garden remember the amazing praying mantis, and its beneficial attributes!
Next time you are out in the garden remember the amazing Praying mantis, and its beneficial attributes!

Happy Gardening!

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