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The Dark And Fascinating Mating Habits Of The Praying Mantis

The praying mantis, so named for the prayer like gesture that it’s “hands,” seem to be making when inert, is a voracious predator. People often talk of the strange, black widow like mating habits of the praying mantis. Like the females proclivity to eat the male after mating and so has come to be viewed as something of an evil seductress. The insatiable, femme fatale who lures the poor, unsuspecting male praying mantis to his inevitable doom. But is such a dark and dreary reputation deserved? Does the conjoining of male and female in the praying mantis species always end in cannibalism? Let us explore the answer below.

The first time that the mantis’ cannibalistic proclivities began to surface to the world was when scientists attempted to observed them in a laboratory setting. The researchers would proffer a captive female with a prospective male mate. They would then sit back and watch with shock and horror as the female mantis tore the poor male apart, limb by limb and then devoured it’s head.

The male had served his purpose as a mate and was therefore disposable. Nothing more or less than a warm meal. For many years this bizarre ritual was thought to be the universal way in which the praying mantis bred in the wild.

However, things could not be further from the truth and when entomologists began to observe the praying mantis in it’s natural habitat, the story tended to end quite differently; specifically, much more happily for the males. For when they were unconfined in a laboratory setting, almost all of the praying mantis mating that was observed ended with the male mantis flying away, unscathed. By all modern calculations, the sexual cannibalism observed occurs less than thirty percent of time when the male and female are in a unbound setting beyond a lab. That, for the male, is quite a good set of odds of eaten or not eaten.

The sexual ritual of the praying mantis is also quite different in the wild, as it turns out. It is a lengthy courtship, quite a romantic thing far removed from the horrid decapitations of a lab, and typically ends with both parties quite satisfied and unharmed.

Yet there is a undeniable, somewhat horrible, advantage to the female if she does decide to decapitated her unsuspecting lover. It is a strange fact and yet completely true that the brain of a praying mantis controls inhibition. A similar ganglion in the abdomen, takes over for the bodily motions involved in mantis reproduction. Therefore, if the female decapitates the males head during intercourse he will copulate to her with wild abandon.

And so what if the female is hungry? That is typically where the thirty percent comes in. If a male chooses to mate with a hungry female he is unlikely to live to bred again.

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.

Sources:

www.thebeneficialinsectco.com

www.keepinginsects.com

www.hgtv.com

www.insects.about.com

www.gardeninsects.com

www.prayingmantisfacts.net

www.natpestco.com