Female Praying Mantises – Saints In The Organic Garden

Insect pests don’t have a prayer of a chance to survive if there are praying mantises around.

The most distinctive feature of these unique-looking creatures is their grasping front legs that make the mantis appear to be praying. With its wide eyes and ability to rotate its head a full 180 degrees, the praying mantis is a formidable predator, capable of spotting prey up to 20 meters away. The praying mantis has one ear located on its thorax, enabling it to listen for bats, its primary predator.

The praying mantis has a voracious appetite and will eat almost any type of insect, sometimes including its own kind. It is especially helpful to organic gardeners who choose to allow nature to solve insect pest problems, rather than spray chemical pesticides. A mantis never eats crops, leaves, or plants. It also camouflages easily in grass or shrubs, changing from green to dark brown, and can appear to be a large twig.

Mantises prey on beetles, grasshoppers and roaches, and can consume up to 16 crickets in a day. Their nocturnal hunting activity focuses on moths, mosquitoes and houseflies. Incredibly, moth larvae can eat an entire plant in a few days, making the moth population control by praying mantises indispensable.

The female praying mantis has a bigger abdomen and is heavier than the male, and the female has six abdominal segments as opposed to the male’s eight segments. Other differing features include the female’s shorter, thinner antennae and shorter wings. The praying mantis mates in late summer, and this ritual begins with the male dancing in front of the female, followed by copulation that can last for hours. If the female is hungry, she will cannibalize her male partner by biting his head off and then eating him.

After mating, the female praying mantis stops flying and eats incessantly. After laying her eggs in the fall, the female dies within two weeks, ending her one-year life span. Mantis eggs are enclosed in a case that holds approximately 200 eggs, protected by a frothy sheath the female deposits to protect the eggs until they hatch.

Egg cases hatch in the spring when temperatures warm, and the one-eight inch long nymphs are predators from birth, immediately devouring insects they are capable of eating. After molting numerous times, the nymphs become six-inch long adult mantises.

Gardeners wishing to add this amazing insect to rid their insect pests can purchase dormant praying mantis egg cases at garden centers or online garden supply companies. Sets of three cases cost under $12 and cover an area of 6500 square feet; ten to 100 cases can cover an acre. If the cases are not released immediately, they can be refrigerated for up to one week. When putting cases in the garden, they should be tied to plant branches at least three feet above the ground.

The angelic-looking praying mantis is a deadly predator that is a welcome alternative to chemical pesticides in the organic garden.









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