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Using The Praying Mantis For Organic Pest Control

Praying Mantis
Praying Mantis

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.

The Praying Mantis: The Hero That Your Garden (Probably) Deserves

When the casual garden-dweller witnesses a praying mantis in action, it is probably not without some trepidation. These carnivores are swift enough to snag a moth in mid-air and merciless enough to consume members of their own species when other sources of food run low. Even their appearance is unnerving; with two bulging eyes atop a narrow face, the mantis resembles the archetypical alien of twentieth-century sci-fi films. Mantises can even rotate their head a full 360 degrees—not unlike young Regan from The Exorcist. While these creatures are certainly horror-movie material as far as other insects are concerned, their voracious appetite makes them particularly useful to gardeners. When it comes to biological pest control, the praying mantis is the grower’s best friend.

Mantises target many of the more burdensome leaf-eating species (e.g. beetles and grasshoppers), and unlike most humans, they love cockroaches. The praying mantis is also one of few nighttime predators skillful enough to catch and eat moths. While adult moths are not a noteworthy threat, their larvae are capable of devastating whole gardens. Many horticulturalists argue that a thriving mantid population is essential for any healthy organic garden. Special care must be taken to provide a suitable habitat for these species; even minimal chemical pesticide use can devastate praying mantis populations. Whereas species can take years to reestablish themselves, crop-devouring pests will return with a vengeance and—unburdened by predators—will wreak havoc on defenseless gardens. For this reason, growers should consider purchasing dormant mantid egg cases.

Mantises in the Wild

Praying mantises are avid eaters. They will ultimately consume both harmful and beneficial insect species, and each other if nothing else suffices. Mantises can hunt both during the day and at night, maximizing their chow time. They are both quick and stealthy; typically a shade of green or brown, mantises are adept at camouflaging themselves amongst the spring- and summer-time shrubbery. While a few species of praying mantis are native to temperate North America, most can be found in tropical climates.

Female praying mantises are notorious for decapitating their mating partners en coitus, but some males do escape with their lives after consummation. Mating takes place in late summer and females deposit their eggs in late fall before succumbing to the cold. The hungry offspring emerge the following spring and immediately seek out smaller insects such as leafhoppers, aphids, and small flies for consumption. Praying mantises don’t change much anatomically throughout their life cycle; mantis nymphs are essentially smaller-scale versions of their parents.

Mantises as Pets

Praying mantises can also be kept as pets, but prospective pet owners should keep in mind that the maximum expected life span for any mantis species is only about a year. There are a number of options to consider as far as appearance goes. Their size can vary quite a bit, from less than an inch to six or more, and some are brown and twig-like while others are brightly colored. However, all praying mantises are carnivores and as such, should be housed individually. In order to house a praying mantis, you will need a relatively small tank (about three times its length and two times its width) filled with soil or peat mixed with vermiculite or sand as well as a few twigs from which the mantis can hang while molting.

Misting is probably the easiest and safest way to provide your pet mantis with water. Especially in the case of young nymphs, they can drown in a water bowl. Many different types of insects should be provided, so that all nutritional needs are met. They can be fed simply by placing the intended prey inside of the tank, but if the enclosure is too large, the mantis may have a difficult time finding its food. Ideal temperature, humidity, and food will vary by species, so it’s a good idea to do some research before committing to owning a praying mantis.

Keeping A Praying Mantis For Your Yard Or As A Pet

Pet Praying Mantis
Pet Praying Mantis

When you first see the term praying mantis for sale you may be a little freaked out but rest assured that praying mantises’ make wonderful pets. While having a praying mantis as a pet may not seem normal the praying mantis provides great benefits in the form of pest control.

Having a praying mantis will provide you with organic pest control. Most praying mantises’ are exclusively carnivores. They almost exclusively eat other insects. As they get larger they may eat other household pests such as scorpions, lizards, or even rodents. While having a praying mantis in your yard will not necessarily get rid of all the pests in your house or yard but it will reduce the number of pests you see. This feature is especially useful if you have a garden. The praying mantis is a carnivore so you don’t have to worry about it eating your vegetables but you do have to worry about the insects that it would eat consuming your vegetables. The praying mantis will eat those insects and thus your garden will get healthier. Having praying mantis in your yard is a wonderful form of preventive pest control that will reduce your reliance on insecticides.

You may be so taken in by the praying mantises you have in your yard that you want to keep one as a pet. Praying mantises can be kept as pets and are a wonderful option if you don’t like animals with hair, are allergic to pet hair, or simply want to have a new and exciting pet. They are harmless to humans so you don’t have to worry about the praying mantis hurting you or your child. You will need an enclosure with holes at the top and grass and dirt make a perfect carpet for your praying mantis to hang out on. If you have more than one you should keep them in separate enclosures as they may want to fight each other and you do not want to wake up to a dead praying mantis and another praying mantis that is injured. The praying mantis has a relatively short lifespan so you may want to start with an egg sack. When the eggs hatch you can keep one praying mantis in your yard and release the rest of them into your yard to prevent other insects from taking over your yard. One variety to look into is the Chinese praying mantis. It has been in North America since the eighties and will not have a detrimental effect on the native area other than the reduction of insects in your yard. Overall the praying mantis makes a wonderful pet.

Overall while it may seem strange at first a praying mantis is an amazing addition to a yard or home. In a yard they act as preventative and organic pest control by eating all of the other insects that may be damaging your lawn or sneaking into your house. As a pet they make an interesting and exotic pet that you are easy to take care of.

 

More Mantis Facts

Nymph Praying Mantises
Hatching Nymph Praying Mantises

When praying mantis eggs hatch, they do not produce larvae. Under the right conditions, young praying mantis is born as a nymph, fully formed. When it comes out of the shell, it is ravenous and begins searching for hapless prey. If it is in your home and you are trying to fight a roach problem, it will find them and eat them up.

You will want to watch for the tiny eggs that are smaller than grains of rice, so you can protect them. A female praying mantis will mate towards the end of summer. The fact that she will sometimes eat her mate is not a myth, but often, the male praying mantis will escape with his head intact. The female will then lay her eggs in the fall before the frost brings her death. You may find the eggs on branches, leaves, walls, under eaves, or along fences. A frothy “goo” called ootheca hardens to make the egg casing. It will be somewhere around ¼ to ½ inch long, about the size of a multivitamin.

Your baby nymphs will hatch in the spring, when insects are beginning to enter your home or garden and cause distress.

A praying mantis, or better yet, several praying mantises are one of the best forms of organic pest control available. If you can handle having an insect as a pet, they make excellent companions indoors, decimating your troublesome insect population. They may not be cuddly and soft, but they are quiet and very busy. You will not regret having a praying mantis nearby for your preventive pest control.