GARDENING WITH PRAYING MANTIDS
WATCH OUT GENTLEMEN…
These fascinating members of the insect class (Order--Dictyoptera/Suborder–-Mantodea) are commonly known as ‘Praying Mantis’ because they often have their forearms held together, as if they were praying. The term ‘Preying Mantis’ would be more accurate, because they are voracious eaters of all sorts of insects, as well as an occasional bird or lizard.
Technically, they are referred to as Mantids. There are 2300 species of them worldwide, and 20 are native to North America. In addition, the Chinese Mantid and the European Mantid are commonly found here. They have 3 stages to their life cycle: egg, nymph and adult. In Indiana, females lay approximately 200 eggs in a frothy mass in autumn. Often the egg case (ootheca) is attached to shrub or tree branches. The ootheca hardens and provides protection to the eggs during the winter. In early summer, the nymphs emerge from the ootheca as tiny replicas of the adults, and will molt several times before growing wings and becoming full-sized adults. In summer, the new adults mate and the life cycle begins again.
The egg cases can be hatched indoors, but careful attention must be paid to make sure that the nymphs are moved outside as soon as they hatch! Otherwise, they will be walking all over your house and will start eating each other…
If you purchase egg cases and are not ready for them to hatch, the egg case may be stored in a cool spot to delay hatching. If stored in the refrigerator (NOT the freezer!), the hatching time will be set back by several weeks. A cool room will slightly delay hatching.
What makes a mantid so interesting? It is the only insect with the ability to rotate and swivel its head, allowing it to “look over its shoulder”. Because it prefers to walk, rather than fly, we get the opportunity to observe it closely. They can fly, however. They are large enough (approximately 3” long when mature) to be noticed, and are usually harmless to people. Rarely, one might grab your finger (thinking it is food) and bite it, but they are not poisonous. Because they eat beneficial insects as well as “bad” ones, they are not as helpful in the garden as some other insects are, but observing them at close range is a great experience for children and adults alike.