The Praying Mantis is a very interesting insect. Like most insects it has six legs, two wings and two antennae. It has large bulging eyes and a swiveling head, the better to see it’s prey, and powerful, spine forearms, to tightly hold it, and strong chewing mouth parts. Females usually can’t fly with their wings, but the males can. When the eggs hatch, miniature mantises emerge, unlike some other insects that have varying life forms, i.e., larvae, chrysalis or cocoon. Mantis nymphs shed their skin 6-9 times as they grow to adulthood.
Reverently poised upon a plant, with its forearms raised as if in prayer, the mantis waits patiently for an unsuspecting insect to move within its grasp. Aphids, beetles, various other bugs, butterflies, caterpillars, and leafhoppers are all potential meals. They maintain such a low-paced lifestyle that they don’t eat much, although they are considered a beneficial garden insect.
The large eyes spaced wide apart on the head allows the mantis the ability to see in stereo. It can look at the same spot with both eyes and accurately judge distances. It can swivel the head allowing it to be able to see movement in 180º.
When another insect moves within its reach, the mantis’ strong arms suddenly strike out catching its meal within them, the spines help hold the prey long enough for the mantis to make one quick bite at the neck, severing crucial nerves and effectively paralyzing it. Slowly, the mantis eats the prey alive.
Mantis sense of smell is limited to smelling specific pheromones from others of its own species. Their sense of hearing is accomplished with an ear located on the middle of the abdomen. It can sense high-pitched tones, especially those echolocation calls of bats. The males are usually the only ones out flying at night, often looking for females, and have developed an escape mechanism of looping and dropping to the ground.
When a male spies a female, he slowly approaches her from behind, sometimes taking over thirty minutes to move a few inches. When she is within reach, he hops up and grabs her in a mating embrace. The female will frequently turn on the male and bite off his head. This doesn’t stop the mating process and he continues to engage her until the process is complete. The female then eats the male to satisfy her hunger.
The female lays as many as 100 eggs in a foamy, sponge like egg case, which she creates and deposits on branches or suspended from twigs. The egg case has a extra thick, flat top which keeps water from penetrating the case. When the eggs begin to hatch, the bottom edge of the egg case is broken open (probably by chewing) and the new mini-mantises stream out.
If you would like to attract mantises to your garden, plant cosmos, raspberries or other brambles, or justy allow a stand of weeds to flourish. If you want to purchase mantis egg cases, an internet search will provide many sources. We have been successful purchasing cases from planetnatural.com. One case hatched in our kitchen. We spent a week catching those little critters and turning them outside. Now, if they’ll just get busy eating the bugs around our garden …
Billie Nicholson, Editor