Praying Mantis – Garden Hunters
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Mantids are ambush predators, the hunting cats of the insect world that sit and wait, surveying their surroundings for a potential meal. Their camouflage disguises resembling leaves and sticks are the perfect adaptation to hunting in the garden verge. Huge compound eyes contain 10,000 light receptors in each one constructed with two lenses and are capable of seeing images and colors. Mantids have an elongated thorax that functions like a neck, enabling the triangular head to turn almost 360 degrees.
As generalist predators they attack and seize their unwary insect (and sometimes other small arthropods) prey with raptor-like front legs armed with spines to pin their quarry while their powerful mandible mouthparts devour it. As a large predatory insect they eat any meal they can catch, beneficial or otherwise, however mantids do not bite humans.
Females are known to kill and consume males after or during mating, perhaps for an extra caloric energy boost before laying eggs. Females are able to produce more eggs after this large meal and the males die soon after mating regardless.
Three species of mantids are found in North Carolina. Both the European mantid (Mantis religiosa) and Chinese mantid (Tenodera sinensis) were introduced into the United States in the late 1800s. The Carolina mantid (Stagmomantis carolina) is native to the United States and found from New York south to Florida and west to Utah, Arizona, and Texas. The Carolina mantid is easily distinguished from the other species as it is about 2 inches smaller as an adult, has shorter wings and a rectangular faceplate between the eyes rather than the square found in the other species.
While many folks find insects, well…kind of creepy, if viewed as animals in our ecosystem we can better understand the connections and continuity between us. Time outdoors, in our gardens and other greenspaces, spent observing these animals with patience and focus leads to an understanding and love of nature and hopefully an appreciation of the many small worlds within the bigger world that we steward.
Minda Daughtry is the Horticulture Agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.