Praying Mantis

Praying Mantis peeking out from foliage in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer http://agardenforall.com

Praying Mantis peeking out from foliage (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

After a light rain one evening, I decided to trek outside and do some clean up and pruning in the gardens.  I was cutting some stray branches of cottoneaster and variegated forsythia when I noticed a tiny triangular shaped head peak out from the foliage.  Lo and behold, lounging on one of the forsythia branches was a praying mantis!  I hadn’t seen one in many years, and dropping my pruners I ran for my camera.  Luckily, he (or she) was still hanging out and remained quite patient as I tried to get some pictures without touching or disturbing this unusual insect. Having only seen a praying mantis a few times in my life, I felt so lucky to have an opportunity to view it up close and personal.

From the pictures, you can see some of the features of the mantis’ body, but I was unable to see it in the praying position.  However, the encounter of this elusive insect so piqued my interest that I decided to look into some history and facts to share with you.  Here’s what I discovered:

Praying Mantis enjoys some tricolor sage in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer http://agardenforall.com

Praying Mantis enjoys some tricolor sage (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

All mantises (or mantids) belong to the insect order Mantodea.  The name “praying mantis” is derived from their prayer-like stance, but the word mantis is translated from a Greek word meaning prophet.  According to Wikipedia (www.wikipedia.org), at least 25 species are native to the United States, and two species, Chinese Mantis and European Mantis, were deliberately introduced in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s as a form of pest control.  Ironically, in 1977 the non-native European mantis (Mantis religiosa ) officially became the state insect of Connecticut.  Tens of thousands of mantis eggs are sold each year, many for use as a biological form of pest control and some even treated as ‘pets.’

**If you dig mantids, perhaps you’d like to learn more about SPIDERS

Praying mantis snoozes on spruce branches in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer http://agardenforall.com

Praying mantis snoozes on spruce branches (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

So, what do these predators like to crunch on and how do they catch their victims?  The majority of mantids are ambushers that camouflage themselves and lay in wait for their unsuspecting dinner to stop by, though they will give chase if necessary.  The mantis holds its prey with spiked forelegs and devours the victim alive, usually starting by removing the head and consuming the rest of the body parts. Praying mantises will eat a variety of insects; mites, aphids, bees, moths, beetles and flies, basically anything that crosses their path is fair game.  However, they have been known to be cannibalistic when no other food source is available.  On the other hand, mantids are fed upon by large frogs, birds, snakes and bats.

Praying mantis on forsythia branch in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer http://agardenforall.com

Praying mantis on forsythia branch (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

In the fall, a female can lay up to several hundred eggs in a protective coating called ootheca, which turns into a hard shell.  The young are ‘born’ in May or June, depending on the spring temperatures, and require water within the first twelve hours for survival.  The praying mantis is not tolerant of Connecticut’s bitter temperatures and will die in the winter, therefore making it a precious and rare visitor to our cooler climate gardens.  Here’s hoping you’ll spot one before the cold weather sets in!

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