- Author: Kathy Thomas-Rico
I must confess: I began this blog with the intention of telling you about my yard’s most dependable bloomers during our long, hot, dry summer. When I went out to photograph the winners (lantana and Salvia … yawn), I found several praying mantids among the foliage.
This seemed much more interesting to me. Have you noticed the mantids in your yard yet? I bet they’re out there.
We’ve always been fascinated by praying mantids at our house, especially when our children were younger. We attempted to keep one or two as pets, but I could not allow it to go on too long. The insects seem so solitary, so plodding, so Zen, it felt cruel keeping them away from the wild. (Full disclosure: The kids also befriended a few tomato hornworms over the years, naming them Verde or Spike. Alas, I did not feel much sympathy for those nasty things, and they remained as pets until they inevitably died in their shoebox purgatories. Cruel? Probably. Sorry. I call it even.)
But these mantids, they’re just plain cool. They’re predators, and the gardening world has taken notice. I have seen some garden stores selling gray-brown mantid egg cases in hopes the newly hatched mantids will stick around and dine happily on your aphids and yellow jackets and such. After some quick research, I learned praying mantids (AKA preying mantis) are not just predators, but “generalist predators,” meaning they eat whatever they can get their spiny front legs and jaws around. This includes beneficial insects and, yes, other mantids.
That makes them Zen cannibals. How cool is THAT?
It also means, as so astutely stated on the UC IPM website, “As mantids consume both pests and beneficials, they are difficult to use reliably for biological control.” So save your money and avoid the egg cases at the garden store. But please let them run free, if you’re lucky enough to have some land in your back yard.