Monday, September 6, 2010

Who Knew? Not Me!

My new shrub brought a guest home...a praying mantis.  I got out my camera, of course, for a closeup picture then decided to do some research. 

I was always under the impression that praying mantises were "THE" insect to have in your garden and if you were ever to kill one, the insect police come after you.  Well, let's put that myth to rest.  According to Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences praying mantises or mantids are not protected by federal law.

I was under the impression that the female praying mantis would bite the head off her male partner after mating.   This cannibalistic act was once believed to be a regular practice. However, it now seems likely that it is much rarer in female mantises in the wild than in captive mantises kept in a cage.  Another myth proven untrue.

I was also under the impression that mantids are active predators and consume other "bad insects". Well, they are good garden predators, but are cannot keep up with the population growth of some insect populations and do not discriminate between beneficial and harmful garden insects.  While the praying mantis feeds mainly on other insects it is, however, documented that larger  mantis are able to consume small reptiles and even small mammals or birds.  These praying mantis facts are well documented in many praying mantis videos. had some very interesting facts:
Praying mantises have triangular-shaped heads and a compound eye on each side of their heads. They are the only insects that can turn their heads a full 180 degrees, and some species can turn almost 300 degrees without moving the rest of their bodies. They're also very sensitive to movement and can see something move up to 60 feet away.

Another one of the praying mantis facts is their ability to use their camouflage to blend in with the surroundings and wait patiently, sometimes for long painful minutes for their prey to reach striking distance. They then use their vice-like front legs to quickly snatch the victim and devour it alive.

When threatened, the praying mantis will stand tall and spread their forelegs with their wings fanning out wide and mouths open. This defensive stance is used to make the praying mantis seem larger, so that it can scare the opponent, with some species having bright colors and patterns on their hind wings and inner surfaces of their front legs for this purpose. If the harassment from the attacker persists, the mantis is in the position to then strike with their forelegs and attempt to pinch or bite.

As part of the final praying mantis life cycle stage often does not develop wings until the final molt. Some praying mantis do not develop wings at all, or may have small wings that cannot function for full flights, just short and jumping bursts. The praying mantis will often fly when the adult female begins to emit pheromones which attract males for mating.

The male praying mantis often fly at night as they seem to be attracted to artificial lights. This is a time however, when bats feed and they use their ultrasonic sound waves to track their prey. Bats are one of the mantids most formidable natural enemies. The frequency of these ultrasonic sound waves can locate the distance of the bat's prey. Interestingly enough, according to Yager and May, praying mantids are able to hear these ultrasonic sounds and when the frequency begins to increase rapidly, indicating an approaching bat, the praying mantis will stop flying horizontally and take a nose dive down vertically at an incredible speed towards the safety of the ground. This sudden descent will be of a downward spiral or an acrobatic loop motion. This is one of the praying mantis facts that I have yet to see in the praying mantis videos. It is believed that the praying mantis' one single ear serves the sole purpose for detecting and dodging these type of bat attacks. Again these are another of the one of the things that make the praying mantis a most fascinating insect.
Even though the praying mantis is not the perfect garden angel I thought it was, it is nature's way to maintain that ecological balance required for responsible, successful gardening. I will, however, keep a closer eye on my hummingbird feeders!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for dispelling some of those myths Kathy! I've always thought they were very cool insects, but a little scary looking the way they seem to look right at you and follow your movements. Now I know that's just what they are doing!