The praying mantis is an oddity with their large size and ability to turn their head 180 degrees. However, this odd little creature just might be an organic gardener’s best friend. For those who dread the thought of chemical pest control the praying mantis may just be a savior. What better form of organic pest control could there be? The praying mantises are effective at controlling problematic bugs and worms that can destroy a garden. They are great for both ornamental and vegetable gardens.
They are one of the few nocturnal predators capable of catching and eating moths. The moth itself isn’t a problem; it is their larvae that can destroy plants. In fact, these destructive larvae can destroy whole plants in a matter of days.
Rest assured, there is no need to worry about the larvae from a praying mantis as their young, called nymphs, are born already formed-no larvae stage. Best of all from a gardeners standpoint, moments after emerging the little nymphs are hungry and start hunting for prey to appease their hunger.
There are three stages to the praying mantis life cycle; the egg stage, nymph stage and adult stage. The life span of an adult praying mantis is typically six months.
The organic gardener needs to take care when pruning or cleaning up the garden in the fall so they do not unintentionally destroy any praying mantis eggs. Female mantises mate in the late summer and will lay her eggs in the fall. This is typically near the end of the female’s life cycle.
The female will generally deposit her eggs on a branch or twig but occasionally leaves them on walls, fences or under eaves. They are ensconced in a frothy liquid, termed ootheca, which will harden into an egg case about the size of a pencil and approximately an inch long.
Again, it is important that the organic gardener recognize the egg cases so they don’t inadvertently destroy them. They are most visible in the winter when trees and shrubs lose their leaves. Any of the cases found should be set aside and protected in a safe part of the garden if they must be moved. They should never be placed directly on the ground as ants find them to be a treat and will quickly consume them.
The young nymphs are only about the size of a small ant when they emerge but they are hungry little bugs. They will immediately begin assailing and eating leaf hoppers, gnats, aphids and other small insects.
An organic gardener knows that their garden relies on the delicate balance of predator and prey to keep unwanted pests at bay. Using the praying mantis is one of the most efficient and safest forms of organic pest control available.