Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Beneficial Bugs: The Praying Mantis

     I know, I know. Here’s another ‘beneficial’ insect that isn’t prey-specific. They just eat other bugs. But they eat a lot of bugs, and the majority of them are pest insects. And so, the praying mantis stays on my list.
     There are 17 native species of mantids in the US and they all have the same basic shape but they do have differences in their size and their coloring. Some are camouflaged to look like green leaves, some brown leaves, some tree bark… you get the idea.
     Praying mantises are predatory insects in that they catch live bugs and eat them, not by scavenging dead stuff or eating plants. They catch their prey by laying in wait and snatching it with those creepy arms or by running a short distance to catch something. And, the rumor is true: the female does sometimes eat the male after mating. Sometimes just his head, sometimes she consumes him entirely. Ew. But, sometimes he does get away.
     In the fall the female will lay between 10 and 400 eggs in a casing of a light brown, fairly hard structure (left). It’s usually wrapped around a twig or blade of grass or is sometimes laid directly on the ground- depending on the species. The nymphs emerge the next spring and typically resemble ants for their first stage of life (you can see the modified legs though) in an aid for survival.

Did you know?
  • That they are commercially available for placement in landscapes where gardeners want to avoid chemical pesticides?
  • That they are bred in captivity as part of an exotic pet trade in parts of Asia and Africa?
  • That non-native species are illegal to possess and release in the United States, under the Non-Native Invasive Species Act of 1992?
  • They are believed to have evolved from cockroaches?
  • The Australian mantis is apparently so tough that Austrialian geckos go into evasive maneuvers to aviod them?
....Now you know.

Jessica Logan Watters, GCLP             Horticulture Technician, Chattahoochee Technical College

1 comment:

  1. I saw some baby mantids last weekend at my in-laws. They were about the size of an ant. It sounds weird, but they were cute.