Monday, March 19, 2007

About The Praying Mantis

by Donna L. Watkins

Praying Mantis Closeup
The Praying Mantis is such a unique looking bug that most people are familiar with. It is considered a beneficial insect for gardens. Two of its relatives are the grasshopper and cockroach.

Mantises range in size from 1/2 inch to 12 inches long depending on the species and location. The nearly 2,000 species are widely distributed throughout tropical, subtropical, and warm temperate areas of the world.

Some species have no wings, but the ones we see here at Bluebird Cove have 2 pairs of wings. The largest one we've had in our garden was 5 inches long.

This insect ambushes its prey and captures it. They do not actively hunt for prey, but instead wait in perfect stillness, virtually invisible on a leaf or stem of its own coloring, ready to seize whatever may be within grabbing distance. When the prey is close enough, the mantis thrusts its pincerlike forelegs forward to grasp the prey. Along the inside of the leg, there are rows of hooked spines that minimize any chance of escape. The mantis then bites the head off first and continues to consume it. This Buckeye butterfly got away.

Mantis and a Butterfly That Got Away
Its diverse appetite includes all insects, butterflies, and even other mantises, which makes them solitary critters, being widely spaced within their own territorial habitats.

These habitats include gardens where they can be beneficial although we will have no input on its choice of meals. It has been noted that they have caught and consumed hummingbirds.

Mantises have a number of predators, particularly birds, so to discourage them from attacking, the mantis will strike out with their spiny forelegs hoping to scare the bird away.

Mantis Disguised Amongst Leaves
Their first line of defense is to avoid detection with their coloring and stillness. Can you see the mantis in this photo? It's a view from the top.

Those that dwell in bushes and grass are colored green, while tree dwellers are often mottled brown. The flower mantises in Africa and the Far East so closely resemble the flowers that insects often land on them to get nectar.

Pair of Praying Mantises Mating
The male mantis performs a ritual dance and the female, instead of attacking her mate, responds with a dance of her own. While the female dance begins with a menacing stance, it ends with a non-threatening posture which signals her receptiveness to mate.

The female has been known to eat the male after mating, but this may be only in captivity when she has not been fed enough or in the wild when food supplies are lacking.

You can tell a pregnant female since her abdomen is swollen. After mating, the female lays her eggs (up to 400) in batches enclosed in a tough, spongy encasement called an ootheca. The ootheca is attached to fence posts, twigs, stems, or sometimes buried in the ground.

The one you see in the photo is now on our dining room window sill. It was amidst the mums that we trimmed back a week ago. I always look for things to discover when we prune back our perennials in the Spring. You don't want to destroy the natural predators that nature has provided.

Praying Mantis Egg Case on Twig
To keep the egg case protected from predators, I placed it between the window and screen so it would have normal temperatures so the "little ones" would not come out too soon. We had another egg case outside our breakfast window on a holly bush that a bird had gotten into. It will be interesting to see if any nymphs come out of that egg case.

No matter what size the mantis is, the eggs are all the same size. Some females stand guard over their eggs until the nymphs (young) emerge unless it will be overwintering.

Protection is needed from parasitic wasps that lay their eggs in the eggs of the mantis. The eggs will hatch in 3 weeks to 6 months depending on the temperature and humidity. The young will emerge from tiny holes in the casing. The nymphs will go through a series of molts (shedding of skin) as they grow into adult mantises.

See more photos of critters at Bluebird Cove.

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