Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Beneficial Insects: Praying Mantis

Praying Mantis

Praying Mantis Eating Grasshopper

Latin Name:
 Order Mantodea.  (15 families and over 2,200 species in the world.)

Love this image of a Praying Mantis in defense mode... can I get a hallelujah!

Why are they beneficial?
Adults and nymphs are ferocious general predators.  
They eat all insects (and sometimes small lizards, frogs, birds, snakes, fish, and rodents!).
Unfortunately, they will eat other beneficial insects, too, but their usefulness outweighs this drawback.

What is their life cycle?
The male will mate with a female in Autumn, and about 15% of the time the female will engage in "sexual cannabalism"... yeah, she will eat her mate, usually starting with the head.
The female will lay her eggs (containing from 10-400 eggs) in a frothy mass that hardens into an egg case called an ootheca.
The egg case is typically attached to a flat surface (like a wall) or around a plant stem or sometimes directly on the ground.
When temperatures begin to warm up in spring time, the egg case will hatch.
The newly hatched nymphs look almost identical to the adults, but they are smaller, cannot fly, and are sexually immature.
Within about 6 months, after several moltings, the adult mantis arrives.

What do they look like?
These guys are pretty easy to spot, but I will show you the egg case (ootheca) and the nymphs as well.

Mating pair of Praying Mantises/Mante

Female eating the head of her mate... I guess there are worse ways to die!

Praying mantis laying eggs.

There are a variety of shapes and sizes and colors for an egg case (ootheca).

Egg Case (ootheca) for size

Nymphs hatching... very cool... a little creepy!

Praying Mantis Nymph.

Praying Mantis Adult.

Praying mantises can have a variety of sizes, colors, and shapes.

What do they need?
Praying Mantises feed exclusively on insects (and occasionally other small animals as well).  Most species are ambush predators, but some will chase their prey.  Adults die at the end of the season.  Only the egg case will survive until the next spring; it is very winter hardy.  There is very little a person needs to do to attract/keep these insects around other than avoiding chemicals that will poison them directly or indirectly through their food.  You can always purchase egg cases to set out in your garden as well.

Check out these other pages on beneficial insects in your garden!
Praying Mantis
Trichogramma Wasps


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