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Beneficial Insects: Praying Mantis

by Stephanie Suesan Smith on October 20, 2011

praying mantis on side of house by porch lightPraying mantids are apex predators in the garden. That means they eat other insects but not many insects bother them. They occupy the same niche that grizzly bears or sharks do in other settings.  They do not bite humans, but will pinch a finger in their well developed front legs if forced to defend themselves.

Praying mantids grow to 3-4 inches in length.  They are an ambush predator, remaining motionless until prey comes within reach.  At that point, they snatch the prey with lightening speed.  This looks like the strike of a snake it is so quick.

In the fall, praying mantids lay their eggs in a frothy, sticky, substance that is stuck to twigs, plant stems, and other objects.  In the spring, tiny praying mantis emerge from the egg mass.  They eat smaller insects.  If those are in short supply, they eat each other.

Adult mantids eat everything they can catch.  They are one of the only predators that catch moths after dark, and are fast enough to catch mosquitoes and flies.  They eat a lot of insects.

Some places sell mantid egg masses for you to put in your garden for pest control.  You should not expect  that to solve all your pest problems.  Because praying mantids eat all insects, introducing a hoard of them can actually make things worse.  Mantids will eat your beneficial insects just as readily as the pests.  Soon you will have nothing but mantids, who will turn on each other.  Dropping apex predators into an ecosystem, such as your garden, just doesn’t work well.

A better bet is to use integrated pest control, with praying mantids encouraged and protected when they occur naturally.  Be careful about spraying pesticides and remember that a few pest bugs are needed to feed the beneficial bugs who keep things in check.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Sunita October 20, 2011 at 11:30 am

I’m all for using natural predators to keep pests under control in the garden. But, like you, I think that they should be protected and encouraged rather than moving in whole hordes of them into the garden.

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Stephanie Suesan Smith October 21, 2011 at 6:51 am

Yes, humans need to quit moving insects and other organisms around to suit ourselves. That is how many of the pests got here in the first place.

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Elin Vikt October 25, 2011 at 9:41 am

I love those little bugs! In Greece they call them “little horse” I believe. So cute. My friend sees them as a sign of good luck.

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