The fascinating praying mantis (also known as mantid) gets its name from its motionless raised front legs, which it uses to hold its prey. A ferocious general predator, it will attack just about any insect in its path, which unfortunately includes other beneficial insects.
The praying mantis will only complete one life cycle per season. It usually takes two to three weeks of warm temperatures for the egg cases to hatch. The tiny nymphs emerge through the narrow slits of the egg case and immediately disperse into the foliage. One egg case will yield approximately 50 to 200 predators. Unless you can find the small nymphs (1/8 inch), it is impossible to tell if the egg cases have actually hatched. In 5 or 6 months, they become a full sized adult (up to 6 inches) and females will deposit 1 to 5 egg cases on bushes and flower stalks. The female dies shortly after this. Egg cases are very hardy and overwinter – subzero temperatures won’t harm them. They hatch out in the spring, completing the life cycle.
Use 3 egg cases for smaller areas (under 5,000 square feet) and increase the amount accordingly for larger areas. If immediate release is inconvenient, you can keep the egg cases in the refrigerator for up to one week, but they must be in a ventilated container. DO NOT FREEZE. To release, simply tie the praying mantis egg cases to twigs or branches about three feet above the ground. Birds and rodents will feed on them, so placing them in a container with holes large enough for the young nymphs to escape (1/4 to 1/2 inch diameter) will provide protection.
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Note: It is not recommended to keep mantis as pets in terrariums or other small indoor enclosures. Young nymphs are very aggressive towards each other and tend to become cannibalistic – give them plenty of room.
Interesting Factoid #1: It has been discovered that the mantid uses an ultrasonic detecting ear as its main tool of defense. According to research, the ear is tuned to the same frequency that is used by bats (a significant mantis predator) for echolocation. The mantid uses its sensitive ear primarily while flying. When it hears a bats signal, it curls its abdomen up and thrusts out its forelimbs, creating an aerial stall, which sends the mantis plummeting safely to the ground. Experiments show a relationship between the volume of the bats signal and the mantis flight pattern. The louder the signal, the more erratic the pattern.
Interesting Factoid #2: Many people believe that the female mantis always bites the head off her mate, BUT it’s not true. It happens more in captivity, and even then she eats her mate only 15% of the time. The male can complete fertilization without his head (see Headless Males Make Great Lovers).
• Click here for more mantid information.
• View a picture of a praying mantis eating a hummingbird.
• Praying Mantis Fact Sheet – Ohio State University
• Natural Enemies Gallery – University of California Statewide IPM Program
• Meet the Good Bugs – This Old House