The real life of the praying mantis

We’ve been seeing a lot of praying mantids (or mantises, whichever you prefer) around the Haddington gardens lately.  While weeding and mulching with Temple Occupational Therapy  students recently we discovered one in the perennial bed at the Annex. It sat calmly on my hand for some time.  St. John’s Community Services volunteers discovered another in the Rose Garden that not only perched upon gloved hand but seemed to turn its head to look at each person in the group!

Weed whacking at the Conestoga Garden a couple of weeks ago, we disturbed another that was hiding in the grass, sending it flying to safer, quieter territory.

We’ve even seen egg cases like the one below. Because of the mantid’s reputation for getting rid of pests in the garden, we always leave them for springtime hatch-out.

Praying mantids are indeed predatory carnivorous insects with voracious appetites, enjoying a diet of flies, moths, caterpillars, crickets, cockroaches, beetles, grasshoppers and even bees and wasps. The small ones, newly hatched out, eat mites and aphids. Fully grown, they sometimes catch and eat frogs, small rodents and even hummingbirds!  Because they are cannibalistic, females often biting the heads off males during mating and babies often eating each other while in search of their first food, they are solitary. No wonder!

Handling praying mantids with gloves is definitely the way to go according to Misako, UTC’s office manager. Once bitten by one, she reported that it left a nasty triangle-shaped, bleeding wound!

Of the 1800 species of mantids, there are 30 native to the U.S. but in Pennsylvania we have two types, neither of which is native.  Interestingly, the first Chinese mantis was reportedly noticed in Mt. Airy in 1896!  One theory is that it hitchhiked a ride on some plants brought in from China and Japan by a nearby Germantown nursery. The other species here is the European one, introduced in the U.S. in 1899 to control insect pests.

Other interesting facts: mantids are the only insect with the ability to turn their heads 180 degrees; they’re kept as pets particularly in China where some very exotic types are available; they eat mostly harmful insects but occasionally the beneficial ones, whatever they can find to appease their huge appetites!

Just for fun, check out M.J. Raupp’s bug of the week column about mantids and the war against stink bugs (complete with a video of a munching mantis) at:

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